The following is an article that Ann wrote for the SFWA Bulletin back in 2005. I’m reposting it here to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Andre Norton’s death.
Some of the magic has gone out of our world.
Andre Norton died on Thursday, March 17, 2005, one month to the day after her 93rd birthday. She died pretty much as she had wished to: at home, peacefully. She had been clear-headed pretty much till the end. I spoke to her for the last time 12 days before her passing, and she knew who I was and thanked me for calling. She sounded calm, though it was clear that she was having difficulty breathing. Her faithful caregiver, Sue Stewart, told me that she had announced that it was time to go, and that she was ready. Andre went through that final Gate as easily as Simon Tregarth, one of her favorite heroes, passed from our world into Witch World.
I knew Andre for nearly thirty years. We began corresponding in the late 70’s, and I was the first author she asked to join her in writing a Witch World novel. It was a tremendous honor for a new writer who had made only one professional sale. Working with Andre was like taking a Master’s course in little-known and fascinating facts. She had a sharp mind, a nearly photographic memory for the written word, and she was the best-read person I’ve ever encountered. Decades after reading a book, she could recount the plot in detail. She read widely: history, biography, archeology, cultural studies, fiction…the depth of her knowledge and the accuracy of her memory never ceased to amaze me. An accomplished storyteller herself, she loved stories of all kinds, from all cultures. She could recite folklore from nearly every culture and historical period.
Andre used her extensive knowledge of other times, places, and cultures to create other worlds. Ask any substantial gathering of science fiction and fantasy fans who gave them their first introduction to science fiction, and probably half of them will say, “Andre Norton.” (The other half seem pretty evenly divided between Robert Heinlein and those Holt Winston series books.) Books such as Star Rangers, Daybreak 2250 A.D. Forerunner, Beastmaster, The Time Traders…well, I could go on and on and on, but you probably know the titles as well as I do. In her later years, when fantasy became as marketable as s.f., Andre created Witch World, a classic fantasy series that has remained in print for nearly forty years. How many books did she write? I really don’t know. Over 200, I’m sure. Her first book was published when she was 19 years old (The Prince Commands) and, before her death, she held in her hands an advance copy of her last solo novels, Three Hands for Scorpio. That’s an incredible, impressive career by anyone’s standards.
I learned so much about writing from working with her. She taught me to get right into a book and never let the pacing lag. She expressed her knack for drawing a reader into her characters and plots with her habitual self-deprecation: “I always get my characters off the spaceship and onto the planet with as little delay as possible, so they can get straight into the adventure,” she told me with a chuckle, “That’s because if I have to try and explain how all the science works, I’d probably make a mistake!”
Andre was an expert at drawing the reader into a character’s plight. She specialized in the “hero underdog” protagonist – ordinary or disadvantage people who, when faced with a challenge, rose to heroic heights and won the day. She authored many “firsts” in science fiction: the first black protagonist (Shann Lantee in Storm Over Warlock), the first female protagonist in science fiction (Charis Nordholm in Ordeal in Otherwhere). She also introduced Native American protagonists and handicapped protagonists to science fiction. When I was a pre-teen, reading Ordeal for the first time, I found myself reading with a smile on my face, wondering why the book had such an immediate, intrinsic attraction for me. It was a while before I figured out that it was because, for the first time, a girl got to have an adventure on another planet – just like the guys. After years of reading science fiction novels populated by male WASP-types, Andre’s deliberate showcasing of other genders, races and ethnicities was like a drink of cool water on a summer day.
Many people think of Andre as she was in her later years, a gracious Lady (in every sense of the word) who was seldom seen in public. That was not always the case. True, she stayed at home caring for her elderly parents until their deaths (and never complained about it), but when she was free to travel, she did, though she never made it across the Atlantic because of the turmoil of World War 2. But she took passage on a tramp steamer to Central and South America, and later, worked at the Library of Congress in wartime Washington. Andre was awarded a special citation by the government of Norway for her portrayal of the adventures of the Norwegian Resistance during WW2. She treasured that award. She treasured her Grand Master trophy, too. Her office shelves were filled with writing awards for specific works and Lifetime Achievement, but unless you visited her home, you seldom learned about them. She was modest to a fault.
One of my favorite memories of Andre was the ladies’ tea she gave at the Noreascon where she was Guest of Honor. All of the lady authors at the convention were invited to her suite, where we were served very proper cucumber sandwiches and cups of tea on delicate china. I went, wearing gloves and a (borrowed) hat. Andre greeted all of her guests, and chatted warmly and graciously with everyone there. My favorite moment was while she was discussing her collection of Victorian books, and commented calmly that her collection contained an extensive selection of Victorian pornography. For half a second I thought I might have perform the Heimlich maneuver on Jane Yolen, but Jane, who is also a Lady, managed to swallow her mouthful of tea and sandwich.
My favorite times with Andre were when I’d go for visits and we’d sit up together after supper, talking about books we’d loved and read, books we wanted to write, stories that needed to be told. Once, when I confided that someone I’d encountered at a writing conference had been snippily dismissive of me and of our genre, and that I’d experienced doubts about whether what I was writing was worthwhile, she shook her head at me solemnly. “Never let that bother you,” she said. “You and I are part of a great and ancient tradition. For as long as there have been human beings, there have been storytellers. We are storytellers, and that is something to be proud of. Always.”
I miss the magic. I miss her stories. I miss her.