onginality. one Must go back to Edgar Rice Burrough's Dejah Thoris to find a heroine in science fiction with anything like Margaret's vitality, and Dejah Tlioris is a much shallower character.
Where Weinbaum's fiction is weakest, however, is in the plot action and the characters who support his "black flame." In "Dawn of Flame," Hull Tarvish, though a likable fellow, is finally only a simple mountain lad, viewed somewhat patronizingly by both Margaret and Weinbaum. And the sentimental heroine, Vail, is an insipid ingenue who serves as Margaret's foil. Her jealousy of Margaret seems rather petty and ignoble. Despite these faults, the story is entertaining and inoffensive.
"The Black Flame," on the other hand, is much more melodramatic, and its plot is frequently annoying. Thomas Connor is a rather Byronic and unsympathetic fellow, and his love/hate relationship with Margaret is a bit trying, especially when he seems fanatically determined not to reveal his feelings to her lest he be mocked or ridiculed. No doubt this love story seemed torrid to readers in the late 1930s. As a matter of fact, I recall thinking it quite exciting when I read it as a college freshman in the early 1950s. But, ironically, the courtship romances that one generation finds exciting seem rather puerile to another. The theme of "The Black Flame" is the familiar "taming of the shrew," but today's readers are likely to find it quite tame itself. (No doubt editorial inhibitions about sex have reduced the impact of the story; today Weinbaum might have told the tale much more explicitly.)
If Weinbaum's fiction in these stories seems in many respects flawed and dated, it nevertheless has certain enduring virtues. His portrait of a postdisaster world of peace and stability, under the benevolent despotism of Joaquin Smith, is quite fascinating. In addition, his characterizations of Smith and Margaret, while overly romantic and often trying, are vital and memorable. Perhaps he should be remembered for creating three innovative characters: Tweel, Joaquin Smith, and Princess Margaret. If his major characters in The Black Flame fully express this, the conflict between Margaret and Connor displays his fascination with romantic love and the "daimonic woman," and his portrait of Joaquin Smith reveals his obsession with the romantic cult of Napoleonic individualism. If the evidence of The Black Flame is of any value, then Weinbaum should be remembered as a misunderstood romantic.
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Book title: Phoenix from the Ashes:The Literature of the Remade World. Contributors: Carl B. Yoke - Editor. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1987. Page number: 93.
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