the Avram Davidson electronic newsletter

Vol. XII No. 1

8 May 2007

ISSN 1089-764X

Published irregularly by whim and fancy for the Avram Davidson Society.
Contents copyright 2007 The Nutmeg Point District Mail and assigned
to individual contributors. All rights reserved.

Henry Wessells, Editor.
Cooper Wessells, Honorary Secretary.

All correspondence to:
Post Office Box 43072, Upper Montclair, NJ 07043-0072

Use this electronym for requests to be added to or dropped from the
mailing list. Back issues are archived at the Avram Davidson Website,


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Tor Books published a new edition of Adventures in Unhistory.
Conjectures on the Factual Foundations of Several Ancient Legends

in November 2006, reviewed by Ben Ehrenreich in the LA Times for
19 November 2006, and by Robert M. Tilendis in the Green Man Review :
“ I mentioned the mechanisms of folklore. Each of these Adventures is a study in
which facts, fancy, dreams and hallucinations all contribute, through the
agency of poets, priests, historians, geographers, and even merchants, to
build the archetypes that have come down to us. Davidson not only
explores where these things came from, he examines what they have come
to mean and what they meant way back when. Read Joseph W. Campbell
and you will get a thorough and erudite explication of the process. Read Avram
Davidson and you will understand how the process feels. ”

Neil Gaiman reported reading the Adventures in late January 2007 : “ It’s a
maze of delightful digressions and bizarre wanderings. Wonderful stuff. ”

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Grania Davis, co-editor with Gene van Troyer of the anthology
Speculative Japan: Outstanding Tales of Japanese Science Fiction
and Fantasy
(Kurodahan Press, 2007. ISBN 4-902075-26-1), sent a recent
note about a trip to Japan: “ Sunday 29 April, we will attend the SF Seminar
in Tokyo, to discuss Avram Davidson, and enjoy dinner at the ryokan. ”

Details of the book at

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Henry Wessells published When They Came  by Don Webb (Temporary
Culture, 2006) and has two more books forthcoming from the press. One
of his recent preoccupations of late is the whimsical and eccentric website, the
Endless Bookshelf. simply messing about in books :
at http://

And indeed, the post for 16 February is an illustrated discursion on Mandrakes

He agrees that there are a few more books by Avram Davidson still to
bring out. Announcements will be made.

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Bruce Byfield, a sometime contributor to earlier issues of the District Mail,
published a memoir of his correspondence with Davidson on 21 March 2007:

Writing to Avram

Writing letters has always been part of my life. It started with a pen
pal cousin in the second grade, and continued in high school with long
letters about literature to like-minded girls and what at the time I
thought was a steamy exchange with a girl I met on holidays in Montana.
Later, emails became another form of letters for me, although I still
miss the anticipatory thrill of recognizing a friend’s handwriting on an
envelope — recognizing someone’s email address just isn’t the same. Yet
of all my correspondences, the one I value most was my correspondence
with the American fantasist Avram Davidson in the last few years of his
Avram was one of the best unknown writers of the twentieth
century. In books like Adventures in Unhistory and The Enquiries of Dr.
, Avram perfected a style of story-telling with a sharp ear for
speech patterns, a digressive style, and a dry sense of good-natured
humor. Only Avram could get away with starting a story with a page and a
half of irrelevancy, or write a page long sentence with six colons and
six semi-colons that was perfectly coherent, or carry off a punch line
like, “I tell you what the problem is. They let anybody into Eton these
days.” The rules other writers learn about what to avoid were challenges
to him, and he inevitably overcame each one he faced.
What made Avram’s letters special was that they were had all the
characteristics of his stories, but were private. Written, as often as not,
on postcards or the backs of old posters, they were almost illegible when
handwritten, and not much better when typed because Avram had a cavalier
attitude about typos. But because Avram was so observant and so full of a
sense of the absurd, his letters were always worth deciphering, down to his
inevitable sign off of “Yoursly.” They were the sort of letters that you
carried to show to other people, and that made me stretch to produce
replies that would entertain him in return.
Was I outclassed? Completely. Avram was not only a genius in the truest sense
of that often abused word, but had thirty-five years of experience on me. But he
tolerated me, and allowed me to learn.
The letters ranged over all sorts of topics. Avram had lived briefly in Canada
in the 1960s, and retained a fondness for it, listening to CBC radio from whatever
small town in Washington State he was currently living in. He usually started with
some insulting reference to me as a Canuck (I retaliated by calling him
a DamnYankee, knowing full well he was a Jew from Yonkers), and would
talk about whatever he was currently reading. For a while, we discussed
the merits of him moving to New Westminister, where the difference in
the Canadian and American dollars at the time would make his small
income go further.
Another time, he sent me scurrying to the library (this was pre-Internet) to
find whether the First Nations chief Poundmaker had ever been pursued —
all so he could mention an imaginary book called In Pursuit of Poundmaker
in one story. I was able to tell him that, if you squinted, Poundmaker had,
in fact, been pursued at one point. I still get a small sense of ownership when I
come across that reference.
But the truth is, Avram’s letters sounded so much like Avram
in person that I am not sure whether many topics were raised in
conversation or in a letter. Was it in a letter that Avram told me about
his one attempt to learn to drive when he lived in Belize — an effort
that ended quickly when he looked up from behind the wheel and saw a
tapir glaring at him, about to charge, and decided that being a driver
wasn’t part of his karma? That he told me why he wouldn’t accept the
Grand Master Award from the World Fantasy Convention? That we discussed
the history of the Hudson’s Bay Company? That I learned that, even in
the 1990s, he wouldn’t ride in a Volkswagon because of the Holocaust? Of
his habit of buying writers a drink at science fiction conventions when
their first novel was published? Of his pride in his son Ethan, who was
proving a playwright? I could probably find out if I were to rummage
through his letters. But the point is that it doesn’t matter. Whether in
person or in letters, Avram was an entertainer.
Remember the princess in Rumpelstiltskin, condemned to spin straw into
gold? If Avram had been the princess, and the goal a story, Avram wouldn’t
have needed the title character’s help. Avram could spin a story out of anything.
One of my strongest memories of him is visiting him at the veteran’s home in
Bremerton one Memorial Day, and watching him hold court surrounded by a
dozen guests around a table on the lawn long after everyone else had
left or gone inside. All of us were spellbound, and we listened to him
for hours.
Our correspondence ended in 1993, when Avram was found dead
in his basement apartment in Bremerton (by mutual agreement, he’d moved
out of the veteran’s home, being too eccentric for the bureaucrats to
handle). A memorial service was held in Gasworks Park in Seattle.
Preserving some of the industrial equipment that was originally on the
site, the location was one that I’m sure Avram would have appreciated
for its offbeat whimsy.
What I learned from Avram was the same as you learn from any original
writer — just how good a story can be, and how often we settle for
something less because it tells us comforting lies, or just because it is
But every writer who delivers that lesson does so differently. Avram’s
way was to suggest that everybody, without exception, is at least
slightly eccentric. Most of us, Avram proposes (and he wouldn’t exclude
himself) are downright dotty, and the only thing to do is sit back and
enjoy the entertainment. I’m too idealistic to share that worldview for
long, but, with Avram as a guide, I still enjoy exploring it.

“Writing to Avram,” an entry on Off the Wall

Reproduced courtesy of the author.

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The editor of The Nutmeg Point District Mail invites contributions on any
topic pertaining to the life and work of Avram Davidson.

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