January 23, 1939
L. Ron Hubbards
Route l, Box 452
Port Orchard, Wash.
I’m damn glad you’ll be with us on the Arabian Nights stuff – and you needn’t worry about having it yours. I’ve been telling a few of the boys to read Washington Irving as an example of pure fantasy and complete acceptance of magic, enchantment, et cetera, and adding that they aren’t to do Arabian Nights because the field is preempted by you. It’s been held open for you.
As soon as I can get hold of a few office copies of UNKNOWN, I’ll send one on to you for perusal. “Sinister Barrier,” “Trouble With Water” and “Where Angels Fear” are down the alley. “Death Sentence” and “Dark Vision” are pretty fair ideas. The other two are filling space for me acceptably. I’m having a hell of a time with it, because the genuinely first-rate fantasy I demand is hard to get: if it isn’t genuinely first-rate, I’m not going to have the magazine I intend to, but just another fantasy magazine.
Basically, this is the philosophy I’m applying: All human beings like wishes to come true. In fairy stories and fantasy, wishes do come true. Adults with childish minds (average “adult” has the mind of a 14 year old) don’t dare to read “fairy stories,” because their minds are afraid to acknowledge their interest in anything childish – they subconsciously realize their mental immaturity and, as a defense mechanism, avoid childish things.
Your true adult, with fully developed mind, can enjoy fantasy wholeheartedly if it’s written in adult words and thought-forms, because, being absolutely confident of his own mental capacity, he doesn’t have any sense of embarrassment if caught reading “childish stuff.”
You get the same effect in the physical world where you find the big, powerful, capable man pretty generally peaceable, friendly and willing to take ribbing easily because of an assured and unquestionable power. The little runt is apt to be belligerent, spiteful, and bitterly resentful if ribbed.
And every human being likes fantasy fundamentally. All we need is fantasy material expressed in truly adult forms. Every author who honestly and lovingly does that makes a name on it: Lord Dunsany, Washington Irving, Stephen Vincent Benet. In view of this, I have absolute confidence that this new magazine will inevitably become more or less of a fashion among truly adult people – and will be despised by the 14-year-old minds.
I don’t, personally, like Westerns particularly, and, in consequence, haven’t read your western stuff. But I’m convinced that you do like fantasy, enjoy it, and have a greater gift for fantasy than for almost any other type. The fact that editor after editor has urged you to do that type seems to me indication that you always have had that ability, and that, in avoiding it heretofore, you’ve suppressed a natural, and not common, talent. There are a lot of boys that turn out readable Westerns, but only about three or four men in a generation that do top-notch fantasy.
And, as I say, I’m reserving the Arabian Nights to you entirely.Regards,
JOHN W. CAMPBELL, JR.
Editor – UNKNOWN
February 1, 1939
Received your letter and the first copy of UNKNOWN today, for both of which I thank you. I have not yet had a chance to read very deeply but it is very obvious that you have a magazine which ought to sell. The only thing which could possibly kill it would be the tendency common to most writers to try to make the reader believe by disbelieving the thing themselves in the form of the hero’s stream of consciousness.
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