The Mathematics of Magic

"The Mathematics of Magic" is a fantasy novella by American writers L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt, the second story in their Harold Shea series. It was first published in the August 1940 issue of the fantasy pulp magazine Unknown. It first appeared in book form, together with the preceding novella, "The Roaring Trumpet", in the collection The Incomplete Enchanter, issued in hardcover by Henry Holt and Company in 1941, and in paperback by Pyramid Books in 1960. It has since been reprinted in various collections by numerous other publishers, including The Compleat Enchanter (1975), The Incompleat Enchanter (1979), The Complete Compleat Enchanter (1989), and The Mathematics of Magic: The Enchanter Stories of L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt (2007). It has been translated into Dutch and Italian. In 2016, the story was shortlisted for the Retro Hugo Award for Best Novella.

The Harold Shea stories are parallel world tales in which universes where magic works coexist with our own, and in which those based on the mythologies, legends, and literary fantasies of our world and can be reached by aligning one's mind to them by a system of symbolic logic. In "The Mathematics of Magic", Shea visits his second such world, that of Edmund Spenser's epic poem The Faerie Queene.

The Mathematics of Magic
The Mathematics of Magic
Edd Cartier's illustration of
the story in Unknown
AuthorL. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt
IllustratorEdd Cartier
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
SeriesHarold Shea
GenreFantasy
PublisherStreet & Smith
Publication date
1940
Media typePrint (Magazine)
Preceded byThe Roaring Trumpet 
Followed byThe Castle of Iron 

Plot summary

Psychologist Harold Shea's accidental visit to the world of Norse mythology has confirmed his colleague Reed Chalmer's speculation that alternate universes can be reached by employing a system of symbolic logic encoding their basic assumptions. Encouraged at his theory's validation but pessimistic as to the prospects of it being taken seriously by their profession, Chalmers proposes to join Shea in a second expedition, more carefully planned, to a world in which they can achieve the fame and fortune that they are unlikely to gain in their own. He suggests the world represented by Spenser's The Faerie Queene.

Outfitting themselves appropriately, they make the attempt and are successful in reaching their target world. They soon encounter the Lady Britomart one of Queen Gloriana's knights, in whose company they attend a tournament at the castle of Satyrane. At the feast afterward Chalmers becomes smitten by a magical simulacrum of the Lady Florimel, only to lose her in the confusion engendered by a sorcerous disruption of the proceedings. Later he and Shea undertake to find the root of the trouble, a secret brotherhood of enchanters they theorize has been tipping the balance against the forces of good, and which they hope to infiltrate and subvert. They meet the woodland huntress Belphebe, with whom Shea becomes enamored, and face the peril of the Blatant Beast, summoned up by Chalmers in a spell gone wrong.

Finally, the two succeed in infiltrating the enchanters' cabal, Chalmers as a magician and Shea as his apprentice. Chalmers, bringing a systematic and scientific approach to bear on the study of magic, fits right in—a bit too well, in Shea's opinion. The secret society appears so congenial to Chalmers that Shea becomes concerned the subversion is going the other way. Escaping, he reveals the enchanters' lair to the realm's knights, who gather to assault it, aided from within by the magic of Chalmers, who was not as far gone as Shea had feared. In the aftermath, Shea and Belphebe are blasted back to the mundane world by the attack of a surviving magician, whereupon Belphebe finally accepts Shea's proposal of marriage.

Relation to The Faerie Queene

The plotline of the story departs from its source, Spenser's unfinished poem, as it is the avowed intention of the protagonists to resolve the situation therein. The perceived greater difficulties faced by Spenser's knights in the later portions of the poem are explained by the evil enchanters of the piece having secretly organized into a guild to more effectively oppose them. Shea and Chalmers are instrumental in revealing this conspiracy to the knights and assisting in its overthrow.

Sources

  • Bleiler, Everett (1948). The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers. p. 95.
  • Laughlin, Charlotte; Daniel J. H. Levack (1983). De Camp: An L. Sprague de Camp Bibliography. San Francisco: Underwood/Miller. pp. 67–68, 208.

External links

Preceded by
"The Roaring Trumpet"
Harold Shea Series
The Mathematics of Magic
Succeeded by
"The Castle of Iron"
Fletcher Pratt

Murray Fletcher Pratt (25 April 1897 – 10 June 1956) was an American writer of science fiction, fantasy and history. He is best known for his works on naval history and on the American Civil War and for fiction written with L. Sprague de Camp.

Harold Shea

The "Harold Shea" Stories is a name given to a series of five science fantasy stories by the collaborative team of L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt and to its later continuation by de Camp alone, Christopher Stasheff, Holly Lisle, John Maddox Roberts, Roland J. Green, Frieda A. Murray, Tom Wham, and Lawrence Watt-Evans. De Camp and Stasheff collectively oversaw the continuations. The series is also known as the "Enchanter" series, the "Incomplete Enchanter" series (after the first collection of stories) or the "Compleat Enchanter" series.

In the original stories, psychologist Harold Shea and his colleagues Reed Chalmers, Walter Bayard, and Vaclav Polacek (Votsy) travel to various parallel worlds where ancient myths or old literature are reality. In the course of their travels, other characters are added to the main cast, notably Belphebe and Florimel, who become the wives of Shea and Chalmers, respectively, and Pete Brodsky, a policeman who is accidentally swept up into the chaos. In the later continuations, the most notable additions to the cast are the recurring villain, Malambroso, and Voglinda, the young daughter of Shea and Belphebe.

Hugo Award for Best Novella

The Hugo Award for Best Novella is one of the Hugo Awards given each year for science fiction or fantasy stories published or translated into English during the previous calendar year. The novella award is available for works of fiction of between 17,500 and 40,000 words; awards are also given out in the short story, novelette and novel categories. The Hugo Awards have been described as "a fine showcase for speculative fiction" and "the best known literary award for science fiction writing".The Hugo Award for Best Novella has been awarded annually since 1968. In addition to the regular Hugo awards, beginning in 1996 Retrospective Hugo Awards, or "Retro Hugos", have been available to be awarded for years 50, 75, or 100 years prior in which no awards were given. Retro Hugos may only be awarded for years in which a World Science Fiction Convention, or Worldcon, was hosted, but no awards were originally given. To date, Retro Hugo awards have been given for novellas for 1939, 1941, 1943, 1946, 1951, and 1954.Hugo Award nominees and winners are chosen by the supporting and attending members of the annual World Science Fiction Convention, or Worldcon, and the presentation evening constitutes its central event. The selection process is defined in the World Science Fiction Society Constitution as instant-runoff voting with six nominees, except in the case of a tie. These novellas on the ballot are the six most-nominated by members that year, with no limit on the number of stories that can be nominated. Initial nominations are made by members in January through March, while voting on the ballot of six nominations is performed roughly in April through July, subject to change depending on when that year's Worldcon is held. Prior to 2017, the final ballot was five works; it was changed that year to six, with each initial nominator limited to five nominations. Worldcons are generally held near the start of September, and are held in a different city around the world each year. Members are permitted to vote "no award", if they feel that none of the nominees is deserving of the award that year, and in the case that "no award" takes the majority the Hugo is not given in that category. This happened in the Best Novella category in 2015.During the 57 nomination years, 161 authors have had works nominated; 41 of these have won, including coauthors and Retro Hugos. Connie Willis has received the most Hugos for Best Novella at four, and at eight is tied for the most nominations with Robert Silverberg. Willis and Charles Stross at three out of four nominations are the only authors to have won more than twice, while thirteen other authors have won the award twice. Nancy Kress has earned seven nominations and Robert A. Heinlein, George R. R. Martin, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Lucius Shepard six, and are the only authors besides Willis and Silverberg to get more than four. Robinson has the highest number of nominations without winning.

NESFA Press

NESFA Press is the publishing arm of the New England Science Fiction Association, Inc. The NESFA Press primarily produces three types of books:

Books honoring the guest(s) of honor at their annual convention, Boskone, and at some Worldcons and other conventions.

Books in the NESFA's Choice series, which bring back into print the works of deserving classic SF writers such as James Schmitz, Cordwainer Smith, C. M. Kornbluth, and Zenna Henderson.

Reference books on science fiction and science fiction fandom.

Sir Harold and the Gnome King

"Sir Harold and the Gnome King" is a fantasy novella American writer L. Sprague de Camp, part of the Harold Shea series he originated in collaboration with Fletcher Pratt and later continued with Christopher Stasheff. It was first published in the 1990 World Fantasy Convention Program Book. It first appeared in book form as a limited edition hardcover chapbook issued by Wildside Press in August, 1991, with a paperback edition following from the same publisher in October of the same year. In addition to the title story, the book includes an afterword by de Camp and illustrations by Stephen Fabian; the paperback edition also has a cover by Fabian. The story was afterwards reprinted, slightly revised, in de Camp and Stasheff's shared world anthology The Enchanter Reborn (1992). The original version was later reprinted together with the remainder of the de Camp/Pratt Harold Shea stories in the collection The Mathematics of Magic: The Enchanter Stories of L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt (2007).The Harold Shea stories are parallel world tales in which universes where magic works coexist with our own, and in which those based on the mythologies, legends, and literary fantasies of our world and can be reached by aligning one's mind to them by a system of symbolic logic. In Sir Harold and the Gnome King, Shea visits two such worlds, first (briefly) that of L. Ron Hubbard's setting from The Case of the Friendly Corpse (actually invented by John D. Clark and Mark Baldwin) and second L. Frank Baum's land of Oz.

As originally written, "Sir Harold and the Gnome King" was a direct sequel to de Camp and Pratt's previous Harold Shea story "The Green Magician", and appears to have been intended to tie up the main loose end remaining from that story, in which Shea's colleague Walter Bayard had been left stranded in the world of Irish mythology. Another issue addressed was a long-standing plot complication introduced by L. Ron Hubbard's "borrowing" of Shea for use in his novella The Case of the Friendly Corpse (1941), previously ignored by de Camp and Pratt. While the collaborators' original discussions for a sequel to "The Green Magician" had called for a story set in the world of Persian mythology, de Camp abandoned that plan in the sequel written.

When the story was reprinted in The Enchanter Reborn another tale, "Professor Harold and the Trustees", was interposed between it and "The Green Magician", necessitating some alteration to take into account the events of the new story. This was clumsily done through the insertion of a phrase into one sentence in a way that disturbed the actual sense of the sentence; further, a longer block of text was allowed to remain which should have been excised, as it directly contradicts the account of the new story.

Sir Harold of Zodanga

Sir Harold of Zodanga is a fantasy novella by American writer L. Sprague de Camp, part of the Harold Shea series he originated in collaboration with Fletcher Pratt and later continued with Christopher Stasheff. It was first published in paperback by Baen Books in de Camp and Stasheff's shared world anthology The Exotic Enchanter (1995). It was later reprinted together with the remainder of the de Camp/Pratt Harold Shea stories in the collection The Mathematics of Magic: The Enchanter Stories of L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt (2007).The Harold Shea stories are parallel world tales in which universes where magic works coexist with our own, and in which those based on the mythologies, legends, and literary fantasies of our world and can be reached by aligning one's mind to them by a system of symbolic logic. In "Sir Harold of Zodanga", in a new wrinkle, Shea visits a parallel Mars rather than a parallel Earth, Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom.

The Ballad of Eskimo Nell

The Ballad of Eskimo Nell (Roud 10124) is a bawdy rhymed poem or song that recounts the tale of Deadeye Dick, his accomplice Mexican Pete and a woman they meet on their travels named Eskimo Nell. The ballad makes frequent use of body-related terminology, with humorous consequences.

The Castle of Iron

The Castle of Iron is the title of a fantasy novella by American authors L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt, and of the novel into which it was later expanded by the same authors. It was the third story (and afterwards the second volume) in their Harold Shea series. As a 35,000 word novella it was first published in the fantasy magazine Unknown for April, 1941. The revised and expanded novel version was first published in hardcover by Gnome Press in 1950, and in paperback by Pyramid Books in 1962. The book has been reprinted by a number of other publishers since its first appearance. An E-book edition was published by Gollancz's SF Gateway imprint on September 29, 2011 as part of a general release of de Camp's works in electronic form. The novel has been combined with other books in the series in the omnibus editions The Compleat Enchanter (1975), The Complete Compleat Enchanter (1989) and The Mathematics of Magic: The Enchanter Stories of L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt (2007). It has also been translated into Italian.

The Harold Shea stories are parallel world tales in which universes where magic works coexist with our own, and in which those based on the mythologies, legends, and literary fantasies of our world and can be reached by aligning one's mind to them by a system of symbolic logic. In The Castle of Iron, the authors' protagonist Harold Shea visits two such worlds, first (briefly) that of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem Kubla Khan and second that of Ludovico Ariosto's epic, the Orlando Furioso.

The Compleat Enchanter

The Compleat Enchanter: The Magical Misadventures of Harold Shea is an omnibus collection of three fantasy stories by American writers L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt, gathering material previously published in two volumes as The Incomplete Enchanter (1941) and The Castle of Iron (1950), the first two books in their Harold Shea series, with the essay "Fletcher and I", de Camp's paean to his deceased collaborator. The collection was first published in hardcover by Nelson Doubleday in 1975 as an offering for its Science Fiction Book Club, and was reissued in paperback by Del Rey Books in 1976. Minus the essay, it has more recently been combined with Wall of Serpents (1960), the third book of the series in the omnibus edition The Complete Compleat Enchanter (1989). This book had been left out of The Compleat Enchanter due to "considerations of space and …contractual considerations". The stories in the collection were originally published in the magazine Unknown in the issues for May and August 1940 and April 1941.

The Harold Shea stories are parallel world tales in which universes where magic works coexist with our own, and in which those based on the mythologies, legends, and literary fantasies of our world and can be reached by aligning one's mind to them by a system of symbolic logic. Psychologist Harold Shea and his colleagues Reed Chalmers, Walter Bayard, and Vaclav Polacek ("Votsy), travel to several such worlds, joined in the course of their adventures by Belphebe and Florimel of Faerie, who become the wives of Shea and Chalmers, and Pete Brodsky, a policeman who is accidentally swept up into the chaos. The three stories collected in The Compleat Enchanter explore the worlds of Norse mythology in "The Roaring Trumpet", Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene in "The Mathematics of Magic", and Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando Furioso (with a brief stop in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Kubla Khan) in "The Castle of Iron".

The Complete Compleat Enchanter

The Complete Compleat Enchanter is an omnibus collection of five fantasy stories by Ametican authors L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt, gathering material previously published in three volumes as The Incomplete Enchanter (1941), The Castle of Iron (1950), and Wall of Serpents (1960), and represents an expansion of the earlier omnibus The Compleat Enchanter, which contained only the material in the first two volumes. The expanded version also differs from the previous omnibus by omitting its afterword, de Camp's essay "Fletcher and I". The omnibus is the first edition of the authors' Harold Shea series to be complete in one volume. It has appeared under three different titles. It was first published in the UK in paperback by Sphere Books in 1988 under the title The Intrepid Enchanter and with a foreword by Catherine Crook de Camp. The first US edition appeared under the title The Complete Compleat Enchanter, and replaces the foreword with a preface by David Drake. That edition was published by Baen Books in 1989, and has been reprinted a number of times since. Orion Books published an edition in the UK under the title The Compleat Enchanter in 2000 as volume 10 of their Fantasy Masterworks series. The stories in the collection were originally published in magazine form in the May 1940, August 1940 and April 1941 issues of Unknown, the June 1953 issue of Beyond Fantasy, and the October 1954 issue of Fantasy.

The Harold Shea stories are parallel world tales in which universes where magic works coexist with our own, and in which those based on the mythologies, legends, and literary fantasies of our world and can be reached by aligning one's mind to them by a system of symbolic logic. Psychologist Harold Shea and his colleagues Reed Chalmers, Walter Bayard and Vaclav Polacek (Votsy), travel to several such worlds, joined in the course of their adventures by Belphebe and Florimel of Faerie, who become the wives of Shea and Chalmers, and Pete Brodsky, a policeman who is accidentally swept up into the chaos. The five stories collected in The Complete Compleat Enchanter explore the worlds of Norse mythology in "The Roaring Trumpet", Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene in "The Mathematics of Magic", Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando Furioso (with a brief stop in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Kubla Khan) in "The Castle of Iron", the Kalevala in "The Wall of Serpents", and Irish mythology in "The Green Magician".

The Green Magician

The Green Magician is a fantasy novella by American writers L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt. The fifth story in their Harold Shea series, it was first published in the November 1954 issue of the fantasy pulp magazine Beyond Fiction. It first appeared in book form, together with "The Wall of Serpents", in the collection Wall of Serpents, issued in hardcover by Avalon Books in 1960; the book has been reissued by a number of other publishers since. It has also been reprinted in various magazines, anthologies and collections, including The Dragon (June–July 1978), The Complete Compleat Enchanter (1989), Masterpieces of Fantasy and Enchantment (1988), and The Mathematics of Magic: The Enchanter Stories of L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt (2007). It has been translated into Italian and German.The Harold Shea stories are parallel world tales in which universes where magic works coexist with our own, and in which those based on the mythologies, legends, and literary fantasies of our world and can be reached by aligning one's mind to them by a system of symbolic logic. In The Green Magician, Shea visits his sixth such world, that of Irish myth.

The Incomplete Enchanter

The Incomplete Enchanter is a collection of two fantasy novellas by American writers L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt, the first volume in their Harold Shea series. The pieces were originally published in the magazine Unknown in the issues for May and August 1940. The collection was first published in hardcover by Henry Holt and Company in 1941 and in paperback by Pyramid Books in 1960.

The Roaring Trumpet

"The Roaring Trumpet" is a fantasy novella by American writers L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt. The initial story in their Harold Shea series, it was first published in the May 1940 issue of the fantasy pulp magazine Unknown. It first appeared in book form, together with its sequel, "The Mathematics of Magic", in the collection The Incomplete Enchanter, issued in hardcover by Henry Holt and Company in 1941, and in paperback by Pyramid Books in 1960. It has since been reprinted in various collections by numerous other publishers, including The Compleat Enchanter (1975), The Incompleat Enchanter (1979), The Complete Compleat Enchanter (1989), and The Mathematics of Magic: The Enchanter Stories of L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt (2007). It has been translated into Dutch and Italian. In 2016, the story was shortlisted for the Retro Hugo Award for Best Novella.

The Harold Shea stories are parallel world tales in which universes where magic works coexist with our own, and in which those based on the mythologies, legends, and literary fantasies of our world and can be reached by aligning one's mind to them by a system of symbolic logic. In "The Roaring Trumpet", Shea visits his first such world, that of Norse mythology.

The Wall of Serpents

The Wall of Serpents is a fantasy novella by American science fiction and fantasy authors L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt. The fourth story in their Harold Shea series, it was first published in the June 1953 issue of the fantasy pulp magazine Fantasy Fiction. It first appeared in book form, together with its sequel, "The Green Magician", in the collection Wall of Serpents, issued in hardcover by Avalon Books in 1960; the book has been reissued by a number of other publishers since. It has also been reprinted in various anthologies and collections, including Great Short Novels of Adult Fantasy I (1972), The Complete Compleat Enchanter (1989), and The Mathematics of Magic: The Enchanter Stories of L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt (2007). It has been translated into Italian and German.

The Harold Shea stories are parallel world tales in which universes where magic works coexist with our own, and in which those based on the mythologies, legends, and literary fantasies of our world and can be reached by aligning one's mind to them by a system of symbolic logic. In The Wall of Serpents, Shea visits his fifth such world, that of the Finnish mythological epic poem the Kalevala.

Unknown (magazine)

Unknown (also known as Unknown Worlds) was an American pulp fantasy fiction magazine, published from 1939 to 1943 by Street & Smith, and edited by John W. Campbell. Unknown was a companion to Street & Smith's science fiction pulp, Astounding Science Fiction, which was also edited by Campbell at the time; many authors and illustrators contributed to both magazines. The leading fantasy magazine in the 1930s was Weird Tales, which focused on shock and horror. Campbell wanted to publish a fantasy magazine with more finesse and humor than Weird Tales, and put his plans into action when Eric Frank Russell sent him the manuscript of his novel Sinister Barrier, about aliens who own the human race. Unknown's first issue appeared in March 1939; in addition to Sinister Barrier, it included H. L. Gold's "Trouble With Water", a humorous fantasy about a New Yorker who meets a water gnome. Gold's story was the first of many in Unknown to combine commonplace reality with the fantastic.

Campbell required his authors to avoid simplistic horror fiction and insisted that the fantasy elements in a story be developed logically: for example, Jack Williamson's "Darker Than You Think" describes a world in which there is a scientific explanation for the existence of werewolves. Similarly, L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt's Harold Shea series, about a modern American who finds himself in the worlds of various mythologies, depicts a system of magic based on mathematical logic. Other notable stories included several well-received novels by L. Ron Hubbard and short stories such as Manly Wade Wellman's "When It Was Moonlight" and Fritz Leiber's "Two Sought Adventure", the first in his Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series.

Unknown was forced to a bimonthly schedule in 1941 by poor sales, and cancelled in 1943 when wartime paper shortages became so acute that Campbell had to choose between turning Astounding into a bimonthly or ending Unknown. The magazine is generally regarded as the finest fantasy fiction magazine ever published, despite the fact that it was not commercially successful, and in the opinion of science fiction historian Mike Ashley it was responsible for the creation of the modern fantasy publishing genre.

Wall of Serpents

Wall of Serpents is a collection of two fantasy short stories by American science fiction and fantasy authors L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt, the third volume in their Harold Shea series. The pieces were originally published in the magazines Fantasy Fiction and Beyond Fantasy Fiction in the issues for June, 1953 and October, 1954. The collection was first published in hardcover by Avalon Books in 1960, with a new edition from Phantasia Press in 1978. The first paperback edition was published by Dell Books in 1979. A 1980 edition published by Sphere Books was retitled The Enchanter Compleated. An E-book edition was published by Gollancz's SF Gateway imprint on September 29, 2011 as part of a general release of de Camp's works in electronic form.The book has also been combined with the earlier books in the series in the omnibus edition The Complete Compleat Enchanter (1989), and with the earlier books and later stories in the omnibus edition The Mathematics of Magic: The Enchanter Stories of L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt (2007). It has also been published in Italian and German.

The Harold Shea stories are parallel world tales in which universes where magic works coexist with our own, and in which those based on the mythologies, legends, and literary fantasies of our world and can be reached by aligning one's mind to them by a system of symbolic logic. In the stories collected as Wall of Serpents, the authors' protagonist Harold Shea visits two such worlds, those of Finnish and Irish mythology.

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