Sep 08

Charles Hoy Fort

Charles_Hoy_fortCharles Hoy Fort whose researches into mysterious and unexplained phenomena made him a forerunner with regard to modern interest in UFOs and the paranormal. Fort was a prodigious collector of newspaper clippings and, on the basis of 100,000 press cuttings, compiled four books: The Book of the Damned (1919) New Lands (1923) Lo! (1931) and Wild Talents (1932).

These works were subsequently brought together as The books of Charles Fort and published through the auspices of the Fortean Society in 1941.

Fort was interested in unexplained showers of frogs, snails, snakes, and fish that fell from the sky; in the appearance of supernatural or inexplicable lights; in ghosts and poltergeists; and in such events as the case of the Devil’s Hoofmarks.

Freed in 1916 and 1917, after two inheritances, from the financial stress that had dogged him all his adult life, he devoted most of his time to what had become his “obsession … [the] search for the unexplained.” The search took him through complete runs of scientific journals, popular magazines, and newspapers and led him to London, where he scoured the publications not available in the New York libraries. His odyssey taught him one clear lesson: that strange events, far from being isolated marvels, were “quite ordinary occurrences.”

From this massive archival research; Fort wrote The Book of the Damned. Friend and novelist Theodore Dreiser took the manuscript to his publisher, Horace Liveright, and gave him ab ultimatum: if he didn’t publish Fort, he would no longer publish Dreiser.

Published in the Spring of 1919, Book opened with these words; “A procession of the damned. By the damned, I mean the excluded. We shall have a process of data that science has excluded.” In the procession were giant hailstones, red and black rains, gelatinous meteorites (traditionally known as pwdre ser, or “rot from the stars”), falls of various substances, archaeological anomalies, and what would be called, three decades later, unidentified flying objects. Except to the humorless, Book was no crank book; rather it was a parody of a crank book, rich in satirical asides in which Fort proposed “theories” he regarded as no less preposterous than those scientists were offering to explain the manifestly unexplainable. “Science of today—the superstition of tomorrow,” Fort wrote. “Science of tomorrow—the superstition of today.”

To Bohemian writers and intellectuals the effect was electrifying. Booth Tarkington wanted to know, “Who in the name of frenzy is Charles Fort? … People must turn to look at his head as he walks down the street; I think it’s a head that would emit noises and explosions, with copper flames playing out from the ears.” John Cowper Powys remarked on Fort’s “curious genius,” and Ben Hecht hailed Fort’s “onslaught upon the accumulated lunacy of fifty centuries.” In the same review, published in the Chicago Daily News, Hecht coined the adjective “Fortean.”
The title of Fort’s next book, New Lands (1923), picks up (though without acknowledgement) from words and sentiments expressed in the first paragraph of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1836 essay “Nature,” which ends with these sentences:

“There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.”

Fort writes, again sarcastically, of literal new lands, namely huge floating land masses from which fish fall and aerial vessels are dispatched. Lo! (1931) dealt with the usual range of physical anomalies, though with a particular focus on UFOs and unknown animals; in his fascination with the latter, he anticipated the later science of cryptozoology. Wild Talents (1932), published the year of his death, dealt with extraordinary phenomena associated with human beings.

In 1920 the Forts moved to London, where Charles resumes his researches in the British Museum. In the next few years, he contributed four letters to the New York Times. All dealt with his view that extraterrestrial beings were visiting the Earth; humanity remains blind to their presence even though the evidence for their presence—in the form of reports of unearthly aerial phenomena be credible observers—exists in abundance.

By the end of the decade, Fort’s health was in decline. He and Anna moved to the Bronx in 1929. Despite his problems he completed his two last books, and he was amused when in 1931 his friend Tiffany Thayer organized the Fortean Society, which Fort, as skeptical of his own authority as of anybody’s, refused to join. He died on May 3rd, 1932.

In 1941 Henry Holt published the omnibus Books of Charles Fort, which went through numerous printings and kept Fort’s name alive even after the Fortean Society folded in 1959. The international Fortean Organization (INFO) was formed in 1965; its quarterly INFO Journal publishes articles and short items on unexplained physical phenomena. Fortean Times and Strange Magazine chronicle and analyze current and historical anomalies.

SFE: The Science Fiction Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Authors : Fort, Charles : SFE : Science Fiction Encyclopedia. Retrieved July 25, 2014, from http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/fort_charles
Many Parts: Remnants of an Autobiography by Charles Hoy Fort. (n.d.). Many Parts: Remnants of an Autobiography by Charles Hoy Fort. Retrieved July 25, 2014, fromhttp://www.resologist.net/parte10.htm
Charles Fort. (n.d.). – The Skeptic’s Dictionary. Retrieved July 25, 2014, fromhttp://www.skepdic.com/fortean.html


Welcome to the third edition of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Our aim is to provide a comprehensive, scholarly, and critical guide to science fiction in all its forms.