James Branch Cabell (April 14, 1879 May 5, 1958) was an American fantasy author at the beginning of the twentieth century. Although not widely known today, in his time his dreamy yet snarky tales of adventure were highly regarded; his popularity declined with the Second World War, because as Alfred Kazin put it, "Cabell and Hitler did not inhabit the same universe." His works were a huge influence on such modern luminaries as Robert A. Heinlein and Neil Gaiman. Most of his work, including his most famous works Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice and the multi-volume Biography of Manuel, are available at Project Gutenberg.
His best known quote is the page quote for several tropes: "The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true." Although Cabell's surname is often mispronounced "Ka-BELL", he himself pronounced it "CAB-ble." To remind an editor of the correct pronunciation, Cabell composed this rhyme: "Tell the rabble my name is Cabell."
Works by James Branch Cabell contain examples of:
- Author Avatar:
- In several volumes of Biography of the Life of Manuel, a character named Horvendile has the reputation of being insane because he insists it is a world he created, and they are all characters he made up. This is borne out when they keep obeying his eccentric directions without knowing why, or even admitting it. In other volumes, there are references to him as "Orven Deal" or "Frank Vanringham".
- In the trilogy The Nightmare Has Triplets, the dreaming author appears in successive volumes as Smirt, Smith, and Smire.
- Blasphemous Boast: Jurgen boasts, "I am a monstrous clever fellow, and can walk widdershins 'round all the gods and godlets."
- Fire and Brimstone Hell: Justified in Jurgen in that the Hell the protagonist visits is based on his father's opinion of what Hell should be like.
- Paper-Thin Disguise: Lampshaded in Smire: "No, my dear company, I assure you that your disguise has completely deceived me."
- Pretentious Latin Motto: Dom Manuel has the personal motto of Mundus Vult Decipi ("The World Wishes To Be Deceived"). This is from a longer motto attributed to the Roman satirist Petronius, who lived in the first century AD: Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur ("The world wishes to be deceived, so let it be deceived").
- The Shadow Knows: In Jurgen, the judgmental supernatural being Sereda attaches her own shadow to the title character in place of his own, to keep an eye on his behavior. However, Jurgen spots this and, before doing anything which Sereda would consider immoral, carefully puts out all the lights, so there is no shadow around to take notes.
- Wanting Is Better Than Having: The eponymous protagonist of Jurgen learns it so hard that he walks up to his true love's bed, lifts the cover, and leaves her sleeping. He is, after all, a Monstrous Clever Fellow.