Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Henry Kuttner’s Hogbens stories leave me conflicted

I first heard about Henry Kuttner’s Hogbens stories in comparison to Manly Wade Wellman’s Silver John/John the Balladeer stories. I have finally read the Hogben stories and, man, is that comparison superficial.

Manly Wade Wellman was an active folklorist and his work was steeped in authentic culture and lore. The Hogben stories are over-the-top stereotypes even before mad science gets thrown in. One reviewer described the Hogbens as The Adams Family crossed with the Beverly Hillbillies and I don’t think I can do better than that.

I was also surprised by how few stories there were. Kuttner only wrote five stories and one of them doesn’t remotely count. (The first story, The Old Army Game, uses the same names but no fantastic elements, utterly contradicting the later stories. In fact, I think it has been left off some collections. Since I actually have read it, I can safely say you can skip it)

Oh, just to make it clear if it wasn’t obvious, the Hogben stories are comedies. 

The Hogben are mutant survivors from Atlantis who have settled in the Appalachian hollers and gone seriously native. Well, Grandpa may be the only one who was around when Atlantis was above water but Pa was doing stuff in Ancient Greece.

The Hogbens have crazy psychic powers, access to building serious mad science tech and centuries of living experience but there wouldn’t be any stories if they actually had any good judgement. Maybe the moonshine they are constantly guzzling explains them making an atomic pile in a wood shed or giving reality altering tech to mere mortals. Since the Hogbens are the only fantastic element in the stories, they have to be the ones who create the problems they need to solve.

I don’t know what to think of the Hogben stories. Stereotypes are a way of dehumanizing people and the Hogbens are pushed to the point of literally not human.  But they do have fun, twisty plots. There’s some good writing. I can see an argument that the stories are actually a satire of stereotypes but I think that is in danger of being an apologist argument. 

Henry Kuttner died young but left a surprisingly large and varied body of work. (His wife C. L. Moore had a big hand in that. Scholars argue to this day who wrote what) I do wonder what his legacy would be like if he’d lived longer. 

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