Dr. Grimshaw’s Sanitarium — Fletcher Pratt

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Fletcher Pratt’s “Dr. Grimshaw’s Sanitarium” first appeared in the May 1934 issue of Amazing Stories (the cover, pictured at left, being one of the ugliest ever to grace SF’s first “official” SF magazine, and atypical of the magazine’s usual extravagant, over-the-top, Sense of Wonder fare). Dimension X  (1950-51, the forerunner to X Minus One {1955-58}) brought it first to radio on September 9, 1950. Dimension X was sponsored by Astounding. When X Minus One took to the air in 1955, its first fifteen shows were previous Dimension X episodes, thus this X Minus One repeat episode of “Dr. Grimshaw’s Sanitarium” which aired on July 14, 1955. X Minus One then began doing new dramatizations of SF stories from the pages of Galaxy (which was then the sponsor). 

Try as I might, I couldn’t find a photo of (Murray) Fletcher Pratt on the internet (or any place else, including my numerous SF/F historical tomes, including SFWA Grand Master James Gunn’s landmark 1976 Hugo-winning Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History Of Science Fiction, which includes references to Pratt on pages 123, 126, and 185, but no photo from hundreds in the book). One photo from a Google search was captioned as being Fletcher Pratt, but I could not confirm this from any other source, and the figure appeared to be much too tall to have been a prize-fighter in the flyweight class (see commentary below).

Virtually unknown to today’s generation of science fiction and fantasy readers–but highly regarded by genre insiders and longtime readers–among other works Fletcher Pratt is perhaps best remembered for his collaborations with L. Sprague de Camp on the Gavagan’s Bar stories (collected first in 1953, then in a complete, expanded edition by Owlswick Press in June of 1978, and then for mass market consumption as a Bantam paperback in January 1980 with the title Tales from Gavagan’s Bar), and the Harold Shea stories of which The Incomplete Enchanter is but the first part, being collected in book form in 1941 from the first pair of stories which appeared in the May and August issues of John W. Campbell’s Unknown, the (short-lived but revered) fantasy counterpart to SF’s Astounding. Over the years (beginning in the late 1970’s) the series has been brought up to date and expanded to include all of the subsequent Harold Shea stories, culminating in the 2007 release of The Mathematics of Magic: The Enchanter Stories of L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt. Both the Gavagan’s Bar and Enchanter stories are well-beloved classics and are well worth seeking out.

[Above right: May 1940 Unknown, with the first of the Enchanter stories, “The Roaring Trumpet.”]

From the “About the Authors” page from the 1980 Bantam paperback of Tales from Gavagan’s Bar (which I shamelessly lift):

“Fletcher Pratt (1897-1956) was a connoisseur of heroic fantasy before that term was invented. He read Norse sagas in the original and greatly admired [E. R.] Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros. His own efforts in this genre produced The Well of the Unicorn and The Blue Star. Born on an Indian reservation, he became a prize-fighter in the flyweight class before entering Hobart College in Geneva, N. Y.  Early in his career he worked for Hugo Gernsback translating European science fiction novels; later, as a writer living in New York City, he collaborated with de Camp on fantasy stories and made his reputation with a popular history of the Civil War, Ordeal by Fire.”

Listen now to this tension-filled radio mystery as we are given a tragic suicide, then a missing corpse, and beyond-the-pale SFnal-type experiments — as our hero (or is he a damned fool?) attempts to uncover the dark goings-on behind the locked doors of “Dr. Grimshaw’s Sanitarium.”

Play Time: 23:25