Conclusions after Revisiting Andre Norton

Here’s a post by Judith Tarr in which she wraps up her five-year-long project of re-reading everything by Andre Norton:

It’s been a long voyage since the first post in this series. Five years! It’s a tribute to the range and extent of Andre Norton’s work that I’m still here and that you all are still here with me. I haven’t loved every book of hers that I’ve read or reread, but I have loved the journey, and I have even more respect for her now than I did when I began.

It’s been a long time since I re-read anything by Andre Norton. I remember some books quite well — Catseye, for one. I didn’t realize that was the first book of a duology until I just linked to it on Amazon right this minute! Oh, I’m disappointed to see that this is a very loosely related second book rather than a story that continues the first book. Never mind. Anyway, also Beast Master. You know what, I think Andre Norton was probably the author who led me from the animal stories I focused on so much as a younger kid to the fantasy and science fiction I read much more heavily when I was in upper middle school and high school. I never read anything in the Witch World series. Looking back on it, I bet I wasn’t interested because that series didn’t emphasize animals.

After pointing out Norton’s weaknesses, Tarr says:

And yet, what Norton does do, she does as well as anyone out there. She is a master of pacing. Her plots move, and they pull the reader right along with them. She knows how to keep the pages turning.

She builds worlds with a clear and present sense of joy in her own imagination. She loves to fill them with the weird and the wonderful. Whether magical or science-fiction-alien, her worlds are full of flora and fauna both strange and familiar.

She stretches her own talents and her readers’ imaginations by trying to show truly alien minds and thought processes—not all of which inhabit other planets. Humans aren’t the only intelligences in her universes. Some of those are beyond human comprehension. Some are benevolent, some malevolent, and many are simply indifferent.

I was too young to think about, or notice, plotting or pacing. The simple characterization worked for me at the time. And yes, I think her strength with flora and particularly fauna was probably the central aspect of her work that drew me in.

Norton brought so many readers into both science fiction and fantasy. She had a gift for telling a story, and a gift for building strange new worlds, and a gift for opening those worlds to her readers. She came back again and again to a particular kind of character: young, alone, isolated from the world they live in; orphaned or disconnected in some way from their family; thrust into situations they were never trained or prepared for.

They find their way through. They not only survive, they triumph. And in the process, they find family. They’re no longer alone. They’re a part of something bigger than themselves, doing things well worth doing, whether saving the world or making a home for themselves and the hearts’ companions they’ve found along the way. Or, usually, both.

Yes to all that. I think maybe I’ll re-read Catseye tonight.

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5 thoughts on “Conclusions after Revisiting Andre Norton”

  1. I first read Andre Norton thanks to my school library. I can’t remember which I read first – Judgment on Janus, or Forerunner Foray. But I loved both of those books, and I think they were what drew me in to science fiction and fantasy. I later realized they were second or third books in a series, and I found the first books years after. I haven’t read one of her books in years, but I still remember the ones I read so clearly, maybe because I reread them so many times (it was a very SMALL school, with a small library.) I also remember reading one or two books by her that were more historical romance/fiction in nature. She ventured into so many worlds in her stories!

  2. I was one of the cohort of girl readers who were surprised to learn that Andre is a masculine name.

  3. Andre Norton was a foundational author for me as a child. Loved her stuff. I actually thought the author was a man for many years!

  4. Other way around for me, Allan — I’m with Mary Catelli — I knew she was a woman, so I thought “Andre” was a woman’s name for many years.

    And yes, Andre Norton apparently wrote in all kinds of genres, which I wasn’t aware of until the Tarr’s post made it clear. I thought of her as almost entirely science fiction and some fantasy and didn’t realize she was so broad in her writing. Either it’s harder to get away with that today or most writers don’t try; not that many even write both SF and F, far less those plus other genres.

  5. Zelazny did a hard-boiled detective novel that got thrown in a drawer and was only published posthumously. Actually quite good. I understand he didn’t submit it during his life because it was outside his usual genre associations.

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