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Andre Norton, 93; A Prolific Science Fiction, Fantasy Author

March 19, 2005|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Andre Norton, a prolific author best known for her science fiction and fantasy novels, including the popular "Witch World" series, has died. She was 93.

Norton, who earned a reputation as the grande dame of science fiction and fantasy, died Thursday of congestive heart failure at her home in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

During her 70-year writing career, the former Cleveland children's librarian wrote more than 130 books in various genres, including spy novels, gothic novels, adventure stories, mysteries and historical novels.

Among her best-known science fiction and fantasy novels are "Fur Magic," "Dragon Magic," "Star Gate," "The Time Traders" and "The Zero Stone." The "Witch World" series, begun in 1963, dealt with an imaginary planet reached through hidden gateways and included more than 30 novels.

Norton also wrote nearly 100 short stories and edited numerous anthologies in the science fiction, fantasy, mystery and western genres.

Although often classified as a writer for young adults, her skillful plots, imaginative settings and strong characters -- especially females -- appealed to readers of all ages.

"Andre Norton inspired people, both writers and readers," Jean Rabe, an author and editor who collaborated with Norton on two forthcoming fantasy novels, told The Times this week. "She had an incredible imagination up to the very end; she had wit, and she knew a staggering amount of history, which she just layered in her manuscripts."

Norton was 22 when her first novel, "The Prince Commands," was published in 1934. Set in a mythical European kingdom, it tells the story of a young nobleman who returns from exile to stop the communist takeover of his homeland.

Born Alice Mary Norton, she adopted the pen name Andre Norton, which she made her legal name in 1934, after publishers told her that a masculine-sounding name would help sell her books to boys, who constituted the target audience.

"There were about five women writing fantasy, and all of them used male names," she told Associated Press in 1999. "We had no choice."

Her first science fiction novel, "Star Man's Son" in 1952, has reportedly sold more than 1 million copies.

"I'm drawn to the science fiction genre because it imposes no limits on my imagination," she once said. "My themes haven't really changed over the years. I've always written stories about the loner, the person who doesn't give up. I use female protagonists because it makes for a better story."

Norton was the first woman to receive the Gandalf Grand Master of Fantasy award, presented by the World Science Fiction Society in 1977. And she was the first woman to be given the Grand Master Award, presented by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 1983.

That group recently announced the creation of the Andre Norton Award for young adult novels. The first award will be presented at the organization's Nebula Awards ceremony next year.

"Andre Norton's books were the gateway to science fiction and fantasy for generations of readers, and through her example and personal encouragement she opened the doors for many new writers," Jane Jewell, executive director of the group, told The Times this week.

Born in Cleveland in 1912, Norton grew up in a family of readers. Her mother began reading and reciting poetry to her when she was 2 and later promoted weekly visits to the library.

Norton began writing in high school, editing the school newspaper's literary page, for which she contributed short adventure stories. She also wrote a novel in high school, which she revised as "Ralestone Luck," her second published book, released in 1938.

Intending to become a teacher, Norton attended the Flora Stone Mather College of Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve) but was forced by the Depression to go to work at the Cleveland Public Library. She took college courses at night, however, including, "every writing course they offered," she said.

Norton worked for the Cleveland Public Library from 1932 to 1950, with a brief time out in the early 1940s for an unsuccessful attempt at running a bookshop in Mt. Rainier, Md., and a stint as a special librarian for the Library of Congress in Washington. She became a reader at Gnome Press, a science fiction publisher, in 1950, then left eight years later to write full time.

In an effort to make it easier for authors writing about subjects as varied as mythology and ancient weapons, she established the High Hallack Genre Writer's Research and Reference Library in Murfreesboro in 1999. (High Hallack is the name of a country in "Witch World.")

Housed in a converted three-car garage, the library had more than 10,000 volumes, including biographies, histories, diaries and science books. Norton closed it last year because of age and health problems.

Norton's last complete solo novel, "Three Hands of Scorpio," will be published by Tor Books in April.

In her final days, said Jewell of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers, "Tor Books rushed a copy to her. She saw it last Friday and got to hold it."

Jewell said Norton, who never married and had no immediate survivors, requested that she be cremated with copies of her first and last books.

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