Bufo cognatus

Bufo cognatus

The blog team asked me to explain my reference to the “damon knight Toad Theory.” (That’s the way he used to write his name, all lowercase, changing to the conventional capitalized form when he got his first editorial job.)

Damon’s theory was that all current sf writers had been toads when they were young. By “toads,” he meant that in their childhoods they didn’t mingle well with neighborhood kids and spent a lot of time by themselves, often reading.

Actually, I thought he had something there. I was a classic case myself; every time my mother sent me to school, I got sick — scarlet fever, various other UCDs — so she kept me out until the fourth grade, bamboozling the truant officer that she was home-schooling me, and we moved a lot. And I believe a fair clutch of other writers had similar stories.

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  1. E. J. Garcia says:

    As a junior in high school, Damon’s theory might as well be law for me if I ever were to become a prolific sci-fi writer like yourself (I’ve set my sights on a career in astronomy, though I currently have a couple of neat ideas I would like to turn into science fiction novels after college).

    I could be wrong, however, for despite being the most shy and reclusive person in class, I am also for some reason the most popular with both the guys and, frighteningly, girls. If only you were as fortunate, Fred!

  2. Robert Nowall says:

    Insofar as it goes, or insofar as it goes with me…I think that my being a “toad” in this sense was what drew me to *reading* science fiction and becoming a devout reader from preteen to my thirties. I didn’t see myself as athletic or adept or nimble (or even orally articulate).

    I couldn’t say that it drove me to *write* science fiction…more a desire to do something that seemed to me a really cool thing to do, and maybe make a few bucks while doing it.

    (Thirty-plus years on: no money, no success at it. Who knew? Certainly not me. And, though my desire to read SF has dimmed down, I haven’t yet lost the desire to write SF and am, once in awhile, still at it.)

  3. Patricia says:

    I think Mr. Knight was onto something. I write fantasy, the second of the Unholy Trinity of Genre Fiction (the first being SF, the third, Horror)and was most definitely a toad in childhood- though I have grown into something slightly less repulsive. A salamander perhaps?

  4. Lars says:

    That’s actually a very handsome and charming toad. But then I’m a herpetologist.

  5. Paul A. says:

    This reminds me tangentially of R.A. Lafferty’s theory, advanced in his wonderful novel “Fourth Mansions,” that the world is populated by four subcultures. Quoting an Amazon review:

    “The best of these are the badgers that guard the entrances of the human domain. The worst are the toads, the ones who sleep and are reborn. These are dedicated to keeping the world from evolving to the next level. Every time things get better they make sure they really get worse.

    Then there are the snakes whose wild mental energy runs out of control. For them the rest of us are toys to play with, energy to use up. Finally, there are the unfledged falcons. Well intentioned, they are the premature warriors, champions of violent solutions.”

  6. Erica Ginter says:

    I certainly qualify as a toad, as I would have benefited from home schooling and not being exposed to a toxic and stultifying public school environment. But that, as I like to say, is a different universe.

    An excellent example of a writerly toad such as yourself, Mr. Pohl, is the late naturalist Gerald Durrell. He did so poorly in elementary school, despite being obviously bright, that his mother took him out and he never returned. She procured various tutors for him, some better than others. (You can read about some of his early life in his marvelous book “My Family and Other Animals.”) So despite lacking even a high school diploma, Durrell became one of the leading naturalists of the 20th century and wrote dozens of excellent books about his zoo animal collecting trips, his family, and related subjects. Something for educators to contemplate.

  7. Bill Goodwin says:

    Blessed be the toads, for the muddy shall be clean, and the clean shall be all wet.