AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following article originally appeared In the Los Angeles Science-Fantasy Society Journal, Shangri-La for May, 1950. It was composed on stencil at the time of publication and deliberately padded to flesh out the Issue. The editors of Inside have offered me this opportunity to revise the article much as I would have done in 1950 had I had the time. I have therefore cut much verbiage from the original and added a number of observations. Including a few based on events which took place after the time of writing, but I have tried in no way to alter the basic con- and tone of the original, or its reflection of the excited, electric atmosphere which prevailed In 1950 during the whelping of Dianetics. This is, then, essentially a reprint, not a new article, and should be read as such.1
In Writer’s Yearbook for 1941, Steve Fischer recalls as outstanding among the fixtures of a New York editor’s office a picture of Lafayette Ronald Hubbard in a pith helmet. Then one of the most prolific producers of pulp fiction alive, and a quondam member of the Explorers’ Club, Hubbard must have seen to it that his picture was as basic a furnishing in many an editorial sanctum as the reject box—and that the pith helmet was as Integral a part of each picture as the hearty dedication and flowing signature.
Nothing we are likely to read in any extensive survey of Hubbard’s science fiction and fantasy writing is apt to cause us to discard the pith helmet as a vital part of our mental image of the author. As a matter of fact, as the material read approaches the close of Hubbard’s career as a pulpateer, we seem to see only a grotesquely swollen pith helmet, a pith helmet which has swallowed up the man.
Ordinarily, an author deserving of no more than casual attention In the popular fiction field, aside from one or two works to be specified later, Hubbard has taken on a notoriety and eminence in the thinking world at large with the publication of his universal panacea, Dianetics. It is not the purpose of this article to comment directly on that volume. Hubbard has guarded too well against frontal assaults on the text of Dianetics: he postulates the existence in everyone of “engrams,” unconscious memory retentions from painful occurrences in the pre-natal, which restrain and hamper the fulfillment of the individual, then ingeniously points out that anyone criticizing or attacking the conclusions reached in the book must have been led to do so by malignant engrams—so closing, on the level of his theory, all refutation and most
24 William Blackbeard
creative debate. Characteristically, however, Hubbard’s ego has led him to overlook his most obviously exposed flank: that of his standing as a creative artist and thinker. He has failed to consider that his work in Dianetics might be challenged by an examination of his work in the fields outside the book, and, by analysis, extended through that work, of the nature of his qualifications for serious effort on any high creative or scientific level. Conclusions derived from such an undertaking, and backed by sufficient evidence and example, can hardly be termed engramatic in origin, inasmuch as nothing but accepted literary values, a little insight, and some known facts need by used as the basis for the analysis. This study has been limited to Hubbard’s science fiction and fantasy, for his writing in these allied fields are sufficiently serious in part to qualify as vehicles of genuine analytical value. Nothing else he has written, outside of Dianetics itself, presents as relatively naked and accessible a pattern of his thinking, beliefs, and conscious or subconscious attitudes, if only because of the unique distinction held by science fiction and fantasy in the challenge they pose to the writer, forcing innate social ideas and philosophic concepts to the forefront of the mind and laying them bare In even the most hackneyed resultant work.
Hubbard- Englehardt- von Rachen- Lafayette’s first science fiction story, “The Dangerous Dimension,”2 was a short and appeared in Astounding Science Fiction for July, 1938. Editor Campbell’s blurb for the story stated that “a name well known to adventure readers makes its first appearance in Astounding,” and it was plain that Campbell, casting about for the sort of writer who could “trim” stories to the “smoothness” he desired, thought he had garnered one such in Hubbard. This initial work, brief though it la, contains in seedling form nearly every point which needs to be made about Hubbard’s writing, elements which grew to be inordinately evident in his major science fiction and fantasy, as well as Dianetics itself.
These points are of prime import in evaluating Hubbard as a thinker, a creator, and a scientist. It is clear, for example that a man who regularly depicts ideas in terms of stereotyped images is not likely to be effectual as any of these. Hubbard, sadly, cannot free his mind from such images; they are clearly evidenced in his first science fiction story; they are almost never absent from a chapter, a page, a paragraph of his writing. Tho pith helmet’s literary talent consists largely of a facile ability to revamp infinitely a small number of standardized characters, plots, and settings which are basic to his creative processes; he has only rarely and usually clumsily attempted to rise above this level of narrative carpentry.*
In “The Dangerous Dimension,” we find a brilliant, absent-minded, shy, and unworldly scientist, Dr. Henry Mudge. With slight variations, this is the character of one of the two hero-stereotypes to be found throughout Hubbard’s subsequent science fantasy. The meek
*It can be argued, of course, that stereotypes are endemic to most pulp writing, even of top-flight writers in the science fantasy fields, but this is not relevant to our point: no other author in popular fiction has tried to launch a new science of the mind, or assert himself as a prometheus of enlightenment to the multitudes— with the possible exceptions of John W. Campbell, Jr., and Richard S. Shaver, to whom many of the points made in this article about Hubbard can be made to apply, and about whom much the same conclusions may be reached. There are also, it may be said, stereotyped characters in the science fiction writings of actual scientists, as Bertrand Russell, Fred Hoyle, and J.B.S. Haldane, but these are used deliberately as devices to activate social, scientific and philosophic concepts into narrative delineation—-and the concepts in the fiction of these individuals are anything but stereotyped, nor are their plots, settings, or narrative gimmicks repetitive or obsessive. WB
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doctor, of course. Is endowed by Hubbard with a miraculous power, the exercise of which wisks him from place to place, a device which becomes one of the basic theme-stereotypes in Hubbard’s work. Mudge is taken care of by a housekeeper, Mrs. Doolin, who mothers him through the institution of a rigid regimen which he effects to dislike, but upon which he is really dependent; this woman, the mother image, is one of Hubbard’s two fundamental heroine stereotypes. The other, the sympathetic prostitute, is also to be found in this story, though more briefly: she is the woman on the houseboat in the Martian canal. At the conclusion of the narrative, a metamorphosis of the housekeeper- mother stereotype into that of the adoring prostitute is implied in the sudden fawning of Mrs. Doolin (now referred to by the author, without reference to any intervening marriage, as Mrs. Mudge!) in the presence of an altered, authoritative Mudge. The change in Mudge, of course, is complete: he evolves in a twinkling in the standard fairy tale manner from the decent but helpless prince kept by enchantment in a lowly state, where he must endure lashings every day, to a position of proud and respected authority. The latter figure, the masterful and and intelligent ruler of men, is the second of Hubbard’s two hero-stereotypes. It is Mudge and the fulfilled prince, the two antipodes of stock pulp fiction characterization, which dominate Hubbard’s science-fantasy writing. It is only the transition of the meek, humbled, brow-beaten character into the strong, dominating, self-sufficient individual, or his rescue by such an individual, which can save him from himself and his self-created crippling environment. Hubbard’s commiseration is reserved for the former figure; his respect and admiration for the latter.
Delving further into Hubbard’s work, we find any number of stereo-typed means of developing and delineating narrative devices. An outstanding and highly significant example is to be found in “The Dangerous Dimension.” This is the stock comic strip “socker” with which Hubbard verbally depicts the transition of Mudge from one locale to
the other, in this case, the single word, “whup!” Mudge’s own term for this speedy switching of backgrounds, repeated only slightly less often than “whup!” is “zip!” The use of similar sockers for like purposes occurs noticeably in “The Professor Is a Thief,” (in the term.”WHOOoosh!” and, conversely, “whooOOSH!”) and in The Obsolete Weapon,” (in the word, “BQWIE!”). These sockers are indicative of Hubbard’s apparent conviction that all transitions or accomplishments of an essentially miraculous or wish-fulfilling nature are, or should be, abrupt, swiftly executed, and absolute. The procedures by which Hubbard has his characters achieve a supernormal goal or transition is almost always swift and sudden; the achieved position Is always Irrevocable, unchangeable. It does become revocable only when, as in the case of Mike de Wolf’s physical immersion in Horace Hackett’s novel In “Typewriter In The Sky” it is absolutely necessary to give the story a conventionally happy ending. Thus the initial impression we gain of a mind possessing an almost rabid partiality for the fixed and definitely-limited conception is strengthened by the nature of certain of these conceptions themselves.
To digress briefly at this point, some considerations might be given to Hubbard’s own avowed opinion of his work. He has frequently and publicly derided his science fiction and fantasy, stating that he cares little or nothing for anything he writes for money and that the bulk of it is deliberately formula. That this is primarily a pose designed to escape criticism for failings Hubbard must know exist even in those works to the preparation and composition of which he has probably directed the most conscientious and careful effort is readily demonstrable. Certainly the average reader is capable of divining in a story that excitement and pleasure communicated by the author when he has been absorbed by a theme and its delineation, just as he is able to sense the purely mechanical process which produces the hackwork written to make a buck. That much of Hubbard’s fiction bears the watermark of buck-making is obvious; this work includes the Unknown novels, “Slaves of Sleep,” “The Ghoul,” “Death’s Deputy,” “The Ultimate Adventure,” and “The Indigestible Triton,” as well as the Astounding serials, “The Tramp,” “General Swamp, C.I.C.,” and “To The Stars, together with many short stories, notably the “Doc Methuselah series” in Astounding. That certain other stories by this writer present every sign of an attempt to produce an outstanding and impressive work is equally evident. This is the case in the Unknown novels, “Fear,” and “Typewriter in the Sky,” and In the Astounding opi, “Final Blackout,” and “The End is Not Yet.” Yet the fact that the latter stories are constructed with much the same stereotyped characters and plot devices as the obviously hack material underlines the basic contention of this article: that Hubbard’s thinking is inescapably bound to pre-conceived, unquestioned, and iron-clad patterns, images, and attitudes of thought, whether he is consciously aware of all of them or not. Thus the chief objection Hubbard might make to a serious study of his science-fantasy is not only invalid in itself, but clearly indicative of a basic aspect of the author’s character: inability to accept responsibility for any action or postulated thought in which he foresees the possibility of critical reaction. Rather than face a debate in which something he has produced may be attacked or analyzed disparagingly, Hubbard prefers to sidestep the entire issue either by dismissing it as a thing beneath discussion or, as the case of Dianetics, diagnosing the critic in advance as demonstrably sick with the very psychoses his science of the mind has been calculated to cure.
To return to the body of the discussion, it must be stated, to further develop our analysis, that Hubbard is not a good writer. This is not a case of mere carelessness (although it is amusing to note, in this context, that the very first sentence of Hubbard’s first science fantasy story, “The Dangerous Dimension,” contains a startling grammatical error), nor is it a result of his deliberate pulp orientation, for there is a highly distinctive style of writing which has been evolved by a number of the major pulp writers in the past thirty years: Dashiel Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Norvell W. Page, Lester Dent, Frederick Faust, Cornell Woolrich, and John D. MacDonald, to name only
Pipsqueak Prometheus 27
a few. The work of all these writers is slick, swift, and packs a punch. It is first-rate pulp. The pith helmet’s, by contrast, is slovenly ill-paced, confused, and possesses a tendency to telegraph what little punch it is able to develop. This is possibly due in part to Hubbard’s self-admittedly breakneck method of composition (although one must compare Faust and Page, both high-speed writers); possibly it is also partly the result of an undue influence on his work of well-known non-pulp writers, notably Dickens, which brings about, particularly in his more serious science fantasy, the introduction of a frequent uncertain style in his work, not quite “literary,” not quite “pulp.” The following passage selected from a magazine at hand is typical; it is a paragraph from the third installment of The End Is Not Yet, page 108. Try to grasp the meaning expressed in an initial reading:
A few days later Martel was seated in the laboratory behind some large converted transformers doing some basic calculations for additional uses of the magnificent jinni he had discovered and, to some degree, bound to him with mathematical oaths. The small desk was rickety and high, its top sloping toward him. The light over it was dim and an old quill pen scratched, in ancient style over problems well in advance of modern. So deep was he in his calculations that he did not immediately recognize the bustle and wrangle which was coming to him through his abstractions and then at last he looked up, peered through two enormous transformers and stared.
This first-draft gibberish is par for much of that which passes for writing in the pith helmet’s fiction. There are worse passages (particularly in the book we are not discussing here), but this was selected for Its compact illustration of Hubbard’s faults. It demonstrates particularly well the introduction of images and mannerisms apparently derived from extraneous reading into his standard narrative prose. Here, as in much of “The End is Not Yet,” the external influence seems to be Dickens: note the rickety desk and quill pen, which have no logical place in the story; Martel, in the highly modern laboratory and factory where he is at work, would not use a quill or a rickety desk, any more than he would work under a “dim” light. It seems a reasonable assumption that Hubbard’s style Is clumsy, makeshift and erratic because It simply reflects the author’s thought processes. Uncertain of an idea, uncertain of a conception, sure only that if he pounds long and hard enough at it on his typewriter*, it must, as it always has, emerge in some sort of of saleable form; he has rarely seemed able to follow a thought to its ultimate and logical conclusion, to pick and worry an idea until it yields up its richest and most useful treasures, to discard the obvious and stereotyped aspect of a conception at once and delves beneath the surface of the apparent. Perhaps—to use the Dianetics jabberwocky for a person purged of his engrams—it will be different with a “cleared” Hubbard; this remains to be seen. But this article is about the still uncleared pith helmet, the pith helmet who wrote Dianetics.
A few words now about those works of science fantasy in which Hubbard clearly felt an interest and creative excitement of a high order. First, the really quite good “Fear,” the almost inexplicably, unbelieveably effective and well-written”Fear.” It is possible that “Fear” is not really as good as it seems to the writer of this article; perhaps the novels is only better than average weird fiction, complete with standard ghoulies and ghosties but even on careful rereading this seems a story that not only preceded the flurry of novels dealling with madness and psychotic obsession, such
*Hubbard’s machine is electric, with a continuous roll of paper, and special keys for common words like “and,” “the,” and “or.” The pith helmet is a great believer in mechanical (and psychological) short-cuts. WB
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as Charles Jackson’s The Lost Weekend, Carleton Brown’s Brainstorm, and Mary Jane Webb’s The Snake Pit, but one that is rather better than any of them. It presents a picture of the insane mind that is genuinely chilling and completely convincing. It abounds in imaginative images of the most compelling and hallucinatory kind — no stereotypes here — and builds to a well-realized climax of harrowing impact. The theme of mental derangement seems to strike a very sympathetic chord in Hubbard, and one regrets he didn’t see fit to pursue its orthodox clinical exposition in his fiction, rather than succumb to a megalomaniac Messiah ism in the founding of a new science of the mind.
“Typewriter in the Sky” takes up the old and amusing theme of a man trapped in another man’s story, and works some really original variations on it. The writing is mediocre but the exceptional verve of the comic invention survives it. The characters are stereotypes, but Hubbard has invented a story which makes its major point of this very fact. The occasional satire on writers is, for the most part, banal and heavy-handed, but the briefly-seen character of Winchester Remington-Colt is almost worthy of Waugh. In the balance, this is a rather high-caliber work if the imagination; there is an irrepressible feeling of good fun and high comic spirits in the novel which works like yeast on the unleavened dough of Hubbard’s wit, and one even, though infrequently, senses a mind aroused to curiosity about the nature of the creative process, and stung to an unexpected poetry of concept—as in the novel’s superb conclusion:
“Up there —
“In a dirty bathrobe?”
Hubbard did well here, as In “Fear.” He was never to do so well again.
“Final Blackout” begins as a sketch, a vivid depiction of military life on the blackened battlefields of a world-wide war, rising in its early scenes to a graphic presentation of this kind of experience that has seldom been equaled in popular fiction, yet it bloats and fades in the middle into a pointless rambling odyssey in which a single man named simply the Lieutenant, plays God, and, wholly invincible, carves for himself out of the hulk of war-devastated England a throne upon which he can receive from the entire populace the same homage and worship he received from his men on the battlefield. This is not, of course, the avowed purpose of the Lieutenant, but it is subconsciously Hubbard’s, and its obsessive emergence ruins the body of the novel, logically and artistically. We can accept the invincibility — within limits — of the Lieutenant on the battlefield, where his survival after years of combat has proven him a capable soldier, but that this invincibility can be turned to the solution of any social problem, or the downing of any moral or economic obstacle, is, as presented, beyond the reader’s ability to swallow. It is Doc Savage; it is Superman; it is the pith helmet triumphant; but it is not effective fiction. This is a case where the development of a truly believable character of superior mental and moral endowment,
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rather than a soldier-savior-stereotype, would have made a fundamental difference and saved a potentially powerful novel, but such a character is beyond Hubbard’s ability to create—or understand. “Final Blackout” is a wish-fulfillment fantasy for Hubbard, nothing more.
In “The End Is Not Yet,” a sloppy, incoherent novel even for Hubbard, we find the French city of Biarritz, a major locale in the the story, moved by the pith helmet’s inventive genius several hundred miles from its proper location on the Bay of Biscay and authoritatively plopped down on the Mediterranean. We meet Frenchmen, Irishmen, Russians, sired by the vaudeville of Bible Belt tent shows. We again encounter the invincible man, as we have done in “Final Blackout;” we again find him shaping the world he wants to save from chaos, and saving it. We feel tired. But not the pith helmet. He has come back from a real war, and in this last long novel, he has obviously belabored all his stereotypes with redoubled fury, determined to weld them into something kolossal, to create a science fiction epic to surpass, in his conception, even “Final Blackout.” But he has learned nothing from World War II. His hero, Charles Martel— the significance of the name would hardly be lost on a first semester student of European history— is, like the Lieutenant, a man who dominates situations and men, who destroys Evil and all he deems unworthy of survival, who solves all problems, heals all wounds, bestows justice in judgement and gives noble quarter, who is loved by a single good woman and is attractive to all bad ones, and who ultimately receives the honor and respect and admiration which the people about him— his people, whom he has protected and saved— come rightfully to realize is his. Martel is once again the dream-Hubbard in action, an ego-naniacal vision idealized in fiction. The need for an actualization of the vision has become almost overpowering. “The End is Not Yet” is the pith helmet’s last inept grand geste of fiction; now, except for a few routine bits of hack work, he will turn such powers as he has to the creation of his magnum opus, the whup—zip-whooOOSH-BOWIE that will transform himself into a savior and the rest of the world into the saved. In “The End Is Not Yet” — prophetic title — It is apparent that the fun-loving man who wrote “Typewriter In the Sky,” the sensitive, competent writer who wrote “Fear,” is gone. The engorged pith helmet alone remains. And the pith helmet’s self-ordained goal is to impose a final, ultimate stereotype upon all humanity—the stereotype of the clear.
The clear, it is at once apparent, is foreshadowed in Hubbard’s fiction by the Lieutenant.
The authoritarian basis of Dianetic theory may not be immediately evident: if all men are to be cleared, to become wholly in command of themselves and their abilities, to lose their irrational fear and hatred of their fellows, surely a kind of cooperative anarchy would prevail, and all men, seeing clearly and wisely, would agree within reasonable limits on social action without partisan turmoil. The Millennium would have come.
Perhaps. But Hubbard is not interested In the Millennium—except as a remote, glittering bauble of the future he could promise the multitudes who must owe him allegiance now. In his time, the processing of clears is the most important thing, and only Hubbard can be the absolute, final authority on total clarity in anyone. (He must possess a certain competence in this: shortly after he announced his wife to the world as the first complete clear, she divorced him.) This places him automatically in a Dianetic hierarchy of non-clears, pre-clears, and clears as unassailable Pope. To quote from a letter of Hubbard’s in Astounding for August, 1950: “One sees with some sadness that more than three-quarters of tho world’s population will become subject to the remaining quarter as a natural consequence (of the early stages of Dianetic auditing and clearing), about which we can do exactly nothing. Curiously, but typically, he has become a Pope in hiding. He has proclaimed a number of people as complete clears—after they spent enough money on being processed and, possibly, began to complain—but he has never, even out of
30 William Blackbeard
sight as he is now in the depths of the southwest, from whence he dispatches on mail order immense volumes of printed claptrap and gadgeted jukeboxes called electro psychometers at $98.50 each, suggested that he himself has made it as a clear. It seems he is too busy getting his message to the world to take time out for the luxury of auditing. This is still the Hubbard that must protect himself from all the damaging challenges to his ego, who will make the gestures of derring-do and don the panoply of the hero, but accept no responsibility for his acts or roles. Here is the man who got his feet wet in the Amazon and lay down with mystics in India so that he could belong to the Explorers’ Club and enthrall wide-eyed wenches with fabulous accounts of jungle hardships (including wrestling matches with pythons) and tales of supernatural exploits beyond the pale of the West, who mastered hypnosis so that he could savor in this cheap and Illusory way the impression that others were doing his bidding, who lost no opportunity to make Major Hoople references to past technical achievements of a largely fictitious nature (see Hubbard’s pseudonymous article In Campbell’s Air Trails for April, 1949, in which he names himself in order to make praising reference to his “considerable” research work in the aeronautical field, work of which there is no record or knowledge by any competent authority), who tailored certain aspects of Dianetic theory to fit the delusions and fantasies of men prominent in the medical and science fiction field in order to shock and excite them into introducing his science of the mind with editorial fanfare and gusty furbeloughs of professional endorsement. Here, in sum, is a man who has an overwhelming desire to create a work of genuine and lasting value in the world, of which he is aware he is basically incapable. If he cannot have the substance, he will have the shadow; if he cannot impress with works,he will impress with mystery;*
*Hubbard has written a book called “Excalibur,” which contains the secrets of the universe, but only very select persons can read it—at a fee of $1500 per select person—since he has discovered it drives ordinary men mad. Dianetics, of course, is described by Hubbard as the merest forepaw of this submerged beast of a manuscript. WB
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if he cannot be an accepted and revered Messiah, he will be a misunderstood and martyred savior. Like Walter Gibson’s Shadow, a rescuer of humanity always secure in the folds of night, Hubbard must wrap himself in concealing cloaks—a cloak within, to obscure the knowledge of his own mediocrity from himself, and a cloak without, to ward off and confound all critics and dissenters. The Jack Ketch of “Fear” is self-knowledge, and Hubbard sees self-knowledge as a stalking horror with a hangman’s noose in its hand.
Thus, Dianetics does not, cannot, offer effective therapy to anyone, least of all its author. It proffers illusions. And the greatest illusion implied in this book’s psychotic shadow-show, as we have found through an attentive reading of Hubbard’s science fiction and fantasy, is that its author has a sustained objectivity of outlook, an elasticity of intellect and a disinterested clinical detachment from his own obsessions sufficient to conceive of any genuinely effective universal mental therapy, let alone research, analyze, and evaluate it psychodynamic ramifications. Alchemy is a failed science. You cannot get gold from dross. And you are simply not going to get a new science of the mind from Lafayette Ronald Hubbard.
There ain’t no rabbit in that pith helmet.
Bibliography of Hubbard’s work in Astounding and Unknown Worlds
compiled by Arthur J. Cox3