Abraham Merritt - Biography & Selected Products
Abraham Grace Merritt was born on January 20, 1884 in Beverly, New Jersey. His education originally steered him towards a career in law but this later diverted to journalism, first as a correspondent and then as Editor. It was an industry where he would excel. In 1912 he was promoted to assistant editor of The American Weekly, a position he kept until the death of its editor, Morrill Goddard, saw Merritt promoted to Editor. A position he kept until his own untimely death. Whilst editor, he hired the up and coming new artists Virgil Finlay and Hannes Bok as well as promoting the work done on polio by Sister Elizabeth Kenny.
His journalistic career was exemplary and by 1919 he was making $25,000 a year which was a phenomenal pay packet. Yet this would increase over the years preceding his death to $100,000 a year - exceptional for the time and also for any industry. This success enabled him to invest in real estate, both in Jamaica and Ecuador, during his travels around the world. He also acquired many hobbies including cultivating orchids and those plants linked to witchcraft, magic and the supernatural; monkshood, wolfbane, blue datura, peyote, and cannabis. Merritt was an avid gatherer amongst which were collections of weapons, carvings, and primitive masks from his travels, as well as a library of occult literature that was said to exceed 5000 volumes. Our attention here though is on his writing outside of journalism. Ever the professional it was here in this fantasy world that Merritt could use his skills and craft to create to great effect. As a writer Merritt was undeniably pulp fiction and heavily into supernatural. As influences he could count H. Rider Haggard, Robert W. Chambers, Helena Blavatsky and Gertrude Barrows Bennett (writing as Francis Stevens), with Merritt emulating Bennett's earlier style and themes.
Merritt's first fantasy story "Through the Dragon Glass" was published in the November 14th, 1917 issue of Frank Munsey's All-Story Weekly. Many more short stories followed including novels that were published whole as well as serialized. It is certainly impressive that he found time to write so much, engage with so many hobbies and collections all while continuing his successful journalistic career.
His stories would typically take on board the conventional pulp magazine themes: lost civilizations, hideous monsters and their ilk. His heroes were almost always brave, adventurous Irishmen or Scandinavians, whilst his villains were usually treacherous Germans or Russians and his heroines often virginal, mysterious and, of course, scantily clad. Many pulp fiction writers had a terse, spare style that never got in the way of plot but Merritt was more considered. His style was lush, florid and full of adjective laden detail. Merritt also contributed to the round robin story The Challenge from Beyond with HP Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard and others. Twice married, once in the 1910s to Eleanore Ratcliffe, with whom he raised an adopted daughter, and again in the 1930s to Eleanor H. Johnson. Merritt lived well; he maintained an estate in Hollis Park Gardens on Long Island, where he also housed and maintained his collections.
Abraham Merritt died suddenly of a heart attack, at his winter home in Indian Rocks Beach, Florida, on August 21st, 1943. He was 59. After Merritt's death, a number of poems were discovered among his papers but only published long after his death
In the wider world, outside science fiction, Abraham Merritt continues to be little known but his works are often quoted in ‘Best 100’ lists and such luminaries as Robert Bloch included Burn Witch Burn on his list of favourite horror novels. Gary Gygax, creator of the video game Dungeons and Dragons, listed him in "Appendix N" of the Dungeon Masters Guide and as one of his favourite fantasy authors. In the Lensman series by E.E. Smith, there is a reference to the novel Dwellers in the Mirage in which the protagonist Kimball Kinnison references the book with a quotation from it "Luka—turn your wheel so I need not slay this woman!" Both HP Lovecraft and Richard Sharpe Shaver also acknowledged their debt to him for his influence on their works.
He was inducted posthumously into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame in 1999, its fourth class of two deceased and two living writers.