Thursday, March 16, 2017

The "Books for the Imagination" Series

I first learned of the Henry Holt and Company series of “Books for the Imagination” via an article by A. Langley Searles in his fanzine The Annex #7 (Winter 1989-1990).  Searles noted that the series began shortly before World War II, and encompassed books such as Past the End of the Pavement (1939) by Charles G. Finney, Windless Cabins (1940) by Mark Van Doren, The Survivor (1940) by Dennis Parry, and Lest Darkness Fall (1941) by L. Sprague de Camp. 

A little research shows that the situation with this series is rather more complicated.  The first book labeled as part of the series was in fact Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp’s The Incomplete Enchanter (1941).  The earlier titles are listed in the description of the series on the rear cover of the dust-wrapper, even though they pre-dated the series itself.  The series lasted for only one more book, Land of Unreason (1942), by Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp, which has an advertisement of the series on the rear flap of the dust-wrapper. I give the full advertisement from The Incomplete Enchanter below, followed by an extract from the slightly re-written advertisement on Land of Unreason. Finally, I give details, chronologically, on the six books that make up the entire series.

From the rear cover of The Incomplete Enchanter
The publication of a book like The Incomplete Enchanter is a somewhat unusual experience. In theme, in plot, in treatment, it falls clean outside the ordinary patterns of contemporary fiction; this very fact is one of the reasons for putting Mr. Pratt’s and Mr. de Camp’s story between book covers. For we believe, as publishers, that there is a substantial body of readers today who welcome books which don’t “conform.” The rare and priceless quality of imagination is a sort of reading vitamin—without it no diet of books is really complete. Too much contemporary fiction seems to us to lack this very quality: the moribund products of historical research, the novels with plots as standardized as the appeals of mass advertising, the books of reportorial sociology dressed up as fiction crowd the booksellers’ tables. Only occasionally is there a story written which is alive with the vitality with a fresh imagination and impact for narrative.

We are on the constant lookout for such manuscripts, and it is part of our policy to publish them when they can be found. Already there have been several in our past lists. Mark Van Doren’s Windless Cabins, for one, Dennis Parry’s The Survivor for another. L. Sprague de Camp’s  Lest Darkness Fall was a third. The experiment has been a successful one. No project has brought in to our offices so many unsolicited letters—or so many manuscripts. One of the most interesting aspects of the publication of this group of books is the way in which people continue to buy and read them long after the usual life-span of a modern book of fiction. They have proved to be stories worth reading long after their initial publication.
The Incomplete Enchanter is, we believe, a book for the imagination, for what an earlier day would have called the “fancy.” It is not like any of its predecessors except in this one fact, for the imagination is not a stereotype. Our expectation is that some readers will be wildly enthusiastic, some entertained, and some, perhaps, uncomprehending. But it’s worth trying, just to see whether it doesn’t supply you with a form of reading pleasure you may have been missing . . . .
 An extract from the rear flap of Land of Unreason:

Books for the Imagination is the informal title we are giving to a series of books we have been publishing for several years. They represent a somewhat unusual enterprise; in theme, in plot, in treatment, they fall clean outside the patterns of contemporary fiction. That is why we publish them.

The Complete “Books for the Imagination” Series

Past the End of the Pavement, by Charles G. Finney. Published 16 November 1939.  It was retitled This is Past the End of the Pavement for the December 1942 reprinting, with a newly designed dust-wrapper.  This novel, though nonfantastic, is perhaps Finney’s best work. 

The 2014 reissue
Windless Cabins, by Mark Van Doren.  Published 20 February 1940.  Also a non-fantasy.

The Survivor, by Dennis Parry.  Published on 21 May 1940. First published in London on 17 April 1940. A supernatural novel, reissued in 2014 by Valancourt with anew introduction by Mark Valentine.

Lest Darkness Fall, by L. Sprague de Camp.  Published 24 February 1941.

The Incomplete Enchanter, by Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp.  Published 25 September 1941.

Land of Unreason, by Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp.  Published 15 June 1942. 

The December 1942 reissue


  1. I own Pavement and Lest Darkness Fall, but didn't realize they were part of a series. Thanks for making me of aware of this, Doug. I've actually been vaguely on the lookout for The Incomplete Enchanter in a dj, which I last read in paperback when I was about 12. I figure it's time to revisit it and perhaps one or two of the sequels. I wonder what the Van Doren is about. In my adolescence I read with pleasure his book "Shakespeare" and his study of the epic, "The Noble Voice." --md

    1. The Van Doren is an odd book, about a young man and woman whose idyllic simple life is disrupted. The man accidentally kills another man, and shares his secret with the woman. It took Van Doren five years and 25 publishers to get it published---and oddly, it finally came out from the publisher his earlier novel, so they must have changed their mind,as they were likely the first publisher to see it. It's very well-written, but seems elusive and unreal. I think the Charles Finney book is a forgotten gem, about the natural world past the end of the pavement of a small midwestern town at the beginning of the twentieth century. After reading it, I felt I understood all of Finney's works better.