Fletcher Pratt

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(1897 -- 1956)

Murray Fletcher Pratt was a writer of SF, fantasy, and history. In his youth he was also a librarian and prizefighter. His pennames included Irvin Lester.

He is remembered today mainly for the fiction he wrote with L. Sprague de Camp. Much of the following is taken from de Camp's book, Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers: The Makers of Heroic Fantasy (Arkham House, 1976).

According to de Camp, Pratt was born on an Indian reservation near Tonawanda, New York, and attended Hobart College for one year. During the 1920s he worked for the Buffalo Courier-Express and for a Staten Island newspaper.

In 1926, he married his second wife, Inga Stephens, an artist. In the late 1920s he began selling stories to pulp magazines, including Amazing Stories and Wonder Stories. He worked with several collaborators, including de Camp, former Futurian Walter Kubilius, Laurence Manning and Irvin Lester. He also translated several stories from French and German for use in American SF pulps. Again, according to de Camp's memoir, when a fire gutted his apartment in the 1930s, Pratt used the insurance money to study at the Sorbonne for a year. After that he began writing histories.

Wargamers know Pratt as the inventor of a set of rules for naval wargaming before World War II. This involved dozens of tiny wooden ships, built on a scale of one inch to 50 feet. These were spread over the floor of Pratt's apartment and their maneuvers were calculated via a complex mathematical formula. Noted author and artist Jack Coggins was a frequent participant in Pratt's Navy Game. Others in the group included SF authors Malcolm Jameson, Laurence Manning, George O. Smith, and Theodore Sturgeon.

Pratt established the literary dining club known as the Trap Door Spiders in 1944. The name is a reference to the exclusive habits of the trapdoor spider, which when it enters its burrow pulls the hatch shut behind it. The club was later fictionalized as the Black Widowers in a series of stories by Isaac Asimov. He was also a charter member of the Hydra Club and attended Hydracon.

His home, dubbed the Ipsy-Wipsy Institute, served as a gathering place for the New York SF community.

Pratt's genre novels included the following: Land of Unreason (1942) [with de Camp], The Carnelian Cube (1948) [with de Camp], The Well of the Unicorn (1948) [as by George U. Fletcher, a Pratt pen name], The Castle of Iron (1950) [with de Camp], Double in Space (1951), The Blue Star (1952) [inaugurated the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series], Double Jeopardy (1952), Tales from Gavagan's Bar (1953) [with de Camp], The Undying Fire (1953), Invaders from Rigel (1960), Wall of Serpents (1960) [with de Camp], Alien Planet (1962), and The Compleat Enchanter (1975) [with de Camp]. Several of Pratt's books were illustrated by his wife Inga.

See Fantasy Times #250 p1 for a long, personal, obituary by de Camp.

Entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

Person 18971956
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