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John Morressy

Science-fiction and fantasy writer

Monday 10 April 2006 00:00 BST

John Morressy, writer and teacher: born New York 8 December 1930; Professor of English, Franklin Pierce College 1968-91, Writer-in-Residence 1978-91 (Writer Emeritus); married 1956 Barbara Turner; died Sullivan, New Hampshire 20 March 2006.

John Morressy may have been too modest and too funny a human being to capitalise fully on his double career. He was a successful Professor of English, and then Writer Emeritus, at Franklin Pierce College in New Hampshire from 1968; and he was a prolific author of science fiction and fantasy, publishing at least 25 novels and many stories.

His life began in Brooklyn, where he was born in 1930, and where, after army service, he took his BA in 1953 from St John's University. In 1961, he took a graduate degree from New York University, whose Manhattan campus in those years was intensely urban, and quite remarkably scruffy. Some of this city grit seems to have fed into his early work, novels like Starbrat (1972) and Nail Down the Stars (1973), conspicuously dark, jazzed-up space operas whose protagonists - like dwellers in a great city - never know the whole story, but somehow survive and prosper in the interstices of an extremely noisy environment.

But, by the time he had begun to publish fiction, Morressy had already moved to south-western New Hampshire, in the heart of "rural" New England, a region that is rural in the sense that, say, the county of Kent is rural. In both regions, intensely settled valleys, whose inhabitants often commute to large urban centres, hug downs and the very high hills known to New Englanders as mountains.

It is intimate country, a land of mists and turns highly evocative of fantasy, and Morressy, who spent the rest of his life there, wrote mostly fantasy in his latter career. His "Iron Angel" sequence (beginning with Ironbrand, 1980), a complicated quest narrative, retained some of the darkness of his early work; but the "Kedrigern" books (beginning with A Voice for Princess, 1986), which gained a large readership, were determinedly light-hearted, conveying a sense that, mainly through the healing antics of the reluctant wizard Kedrigern, a good life was still possible in the lee of the world.

In the busy subculture of the fantastic in literature, an excessively modest writer like Morressy could easily be forgotten. He was, however, quite visible at the one convention of writers and fans - Readercon, convened annually in eastern Massachusetts - which exhibits a typical New England mix of intensity and self-deprecation. Here, Morressy was clearly at home, moving down corridors at a very gentle lope, his thin mobile face transformed suddenly, again and again, by a great grin.

Here he seemed most vividly what his active life continuously affirmed: John Morressy was a hard worker, a lover of life in shelter, a man defined by where he chose to live, a civilised man.

John Clute

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