Birthday Reviews: C.L. Moore’s “Lost Paradise”

Birthday Reviews: C.L. Moore’s “Lost Paradise”

Cover by Margaret Brundage
Cover by Margaret Brundage

C.L. (Catherine Lucille) Moore was born on January 24, 1911 and died on April 4, 1987. From 1940 until his death in 1958, she was married to science fiction author Henry Kuttner. The two had their own careers and also collaborated together, although they claimed that they each worked on all of the other’s stories, sitting down and continuing whatever was in the typewriter at the time. Moore (or Moore/Kuttner) also used the pseudonyms Lawrence O’Donnell, C.H. Liddell, and Lewis Padgett.

In 1956, their collaboration “Home There’s No Returning” was nominated for the Hugo for Best Novelette. She received the First Fandom Hall of Fame Award in 1972, the Forry Award in 1973, and the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1981. Moore was the Guest of Honor at Denvention Two, the 1981 Worldcon in Denver. Posthumously, she was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 1998 and, along with Kuttner, was named the recipient of the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award in 2004.

“Lost Paradise” is one of her stories featuring her space-faring rogue Northwest Smith and was originally published in the July 1936 issue of Weird Tales, edited by Farnsworth Wright. Moore included it in various collections, including Northwest of Earth, Shambleau, and Scarlet Dream. It has seen additional reprintings and has been translated into French and Italian.

“Lost Paradise” is essentially a bar story with a twist. Northwest Smith and his Venusian friend Yarol are enjoying a meal in New York when Yarol sees a strange man walking along the street below them. When the man is mugged, Yarol manages to retrieve the man’s package and, having recognized him as a member of a strange, secluded race, the Seles, who live in central Asia but don’t intermingle with any other peoples, he tells him that the only reward he desires is to know the great secret of the Seles.

The majority of the story is related to them by the man, although he forges a psychic connection, which impacts Smith much more than Yarol. The Seles came from the moon in the distant past and Smith gets the opportunity to experience, and possibly even influence, the Seles exile to Earth.

Moore’s language is nearly poetic, which isn’t surprising since she had been influenced by H.P. Lovecraft, and she has a beautiful description of the Earth rising over the moon, as well as the strange but beautiful city of Baloise, that existed when the moon had a thin atmosphere and could support the Seles people.

Reprint reviewed in its the collection Northwest Smith, Ace Books, 1981.

Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a fifteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Big White Men—Attack!” in Little Green Men—Attack! Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 5 times as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.

Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

[…] H. Silver reviews Moore’s Lost Paradise at Black […]

Tony Den

That Weird Tales cover to me is one of the most memorable I have encountered. I recently purchased the collected Northwest Smith and am looking forward to reading the stories therein.

John ONeill


I’d welcome a Brundage retrospective, of course, but we tend to focus on neglected authors and artists… Brundage is so well known that it almost seems redundant.

Bob Byrne

Hmm…The Conan covers of Margaret Brundage – And Discussion of other Robert E. Howard covers

That sounds like my kind of title…

John ONeill

Go for it Bob!

Major Wootton

A dissenting voice: I think Brundage was a really lousy artist. Her figures inevitably look remarkably like molded plastic; they never — no, to thebest of my knowledge there is not one exception — look lifelike. The faces are fixed and look like those of dolls, whether Barbie-type dolls or ogre-dolls, etc. People who are supposed to be living in remote epochs have had their hair styled circa 1930 USA. The backgrounds are perfunctory and stagey. Her management of color is amateurish and staring.

The above are all technical criticisms. I would add an additional criticism that is distinct from ineptness as a practitioner of the commercial artist’s craft, namely the repetitive, tiresome voyeurism of her pictures. In this she may have been obeying the requirements of the publisher, but that’s beside the point. The cover designs are intended to provide a kick for people who are attracted to images of women being tied up and threatened with being knifed, or raped, or strangled, etc. The victims are too lacking in lifelikeness to evoke any vicarious sympathy, which tends to keep the viewer focused on the titillation of the scene itself.

Brundage’s art is odious.

James McGlothlin

@Major Wootton

I don’t really have an opinion about the technical aspects of Brundage’s art. But I appreciate your comment about voyeurism. I’ve always been sort of puzzled by this sort of schizophrenic aspect of SF&F community: becoming more and more sensitive to sexism but at the same time continuing to laud this sort of voyeurism.

John E. Boyle

Happy Birthday to C.L. Moore!

John ONeill


Yeah, I understand what you mean. That’s why I think a retrospective of her work would be so enlightening though. Yes, the most reprinted examples of her work tend to be highly sexualized and focused on female bondage. But I think you’ll find WT was far more restrained and artistic than the Weird Menace and shudder pulps it directly competed against, like Spicy Mystery and Terror Tales.

A huge part of that was Brundage. She brought a level of restraint — and yes, beauty — to an art genre that previously had focused exclusively on titillation, submission and horror. Yes, much of her art looks stilted today.

But compare what she delivered for Weird Tales to what her competitors were delivering at the same time, and I think you’ll find her art transcended the requirements of an awful genre and managed to bring beauty and — wonder of wonders — even an element of playfulness.

It’s not your thing, I get that. But that doesn’t diminish what she accomplished. In a wholly male-dominated field, 80 years ago.

Weird Tales October 1933 Brundage

Major Wootton

John, I do mean seriously what I say about Brundage’s art in the first paragraph of my comment. Forget the sex thing — that’s been obvious to everyone. I’m saying the art on its own terms, as commercial art, is also lousy. Look at her figures. One feels that they are stiff plastic dolls that one could pick up by the ankles and brandish around one’s head. Drop them and they’d bounce with a hollow noise because they are made of plastic.

Do a thought experiment. Imagine that the WT covers for the Conan stories had been down by a contemporary artist such as J. Allen St. John. Now I don’t think he’s any better than a competent commercial artist for this sort of thing. But just imagine that his work was what you had always associated with the Conan covers for WT. And then somebody showed you the covers for, say, the Canadian edition of WT — with the Brundage art. Don’t you think most adults would laugh at how bad they are?

[…] Black Gate » Birthday Reviews: C.L. Moore’s “Lost Paradise” […]

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x