The Enchanted Duplicator

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Title: The Enchanted Duplicator
Publisher: Walter A Willis and Bob Shaw
Date(s): 1954
Medium: print
Fandom: science fiction
Language: English
External Links: The Enchanted Duplicator - Introduction and Table of Contents, Archived version
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The Enchanted Duplicator was first published in February 1954. It was written as a collaboration by Walter A Willis and Bob Shaw. It has been re-issued at least ten times by as many different publishers.

It is an allegory of the journey of a science fiction fan.

Inspired By?

An often-repeated "fact" is that it is loosely based on John Bunyan's "The Pilgrim's Progress," but this appears to be untrue.

Some of the characters in The Enchanted Duplicator are clearly based on real people — Willis said on more than one occasion, including to me, that “Profan” was substantially based on Eric Frank Russell — but they aren’t limited to members of the London Circle. In fact Willis and Shaw both lived in Belfast and, while they’d visited London fandom, they had as many (or more) connections with fandom in the US as with fans in Britain. There is no basis at all for claiming that “all of the characters in the book are renamed versions of real fans,” and the work was certainly not created “entirely for [the] pleasure” of London Circle fans. Finally, as about five seconds with the Google could have informed Morrison, Willis and Shaw disclaimed the connection to Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, which neither of them had read at the time; Willis wrote in 1965 that it “arose out of a conversation…about a radio play by Louis MacNeice based on the quotation ‘Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.’” [1]


Flawed or otherwise, The Enchanted Duplicator has since become a significant (if often unstated) part of the subsoil of fannish history. Although it addresses itself to the fandom surrounding its creation, its voice has carried down the years to touch the lives of fans unborn in 1954. Despite the generations, it still relates to something in the fannish heart.

I said that it addresses the fandom of its creation. Strip away the pseudonyms and this becomes plainer. The Circle of Lassitude is the London SF Circle of the early 50's. Kerles is Max Keasler, a fan noted for his typos. Perfexion is the above-mentioned Vincent Clarke. Profan's inspiration was Eric Frank Russell, whom Willis held in profound admiration. Offset printing is the folly of spendthrift fen, while photocopiers did not exist and are therefore not mentioned. Mimeography -- stencil duplicating -- was the fannish medium, not because of snobbishness but because it was the most convenient and immediately accessible means of getting words into print without breaking one's pocketbook... The Enchanted Duplicator is more than a simple fairy tale about one fan's slow progress into the heartland of 'Fandom'. It contains practical advice on the pitfalls awaiting the new fan, puns wherever they could be fitted in, and it is a somewhat distorting window into a past era of fandom. But as well as all this, it is an allegory and a fable. A moral is not stated: it is implicit in every page. Simply: anyone may become a 'True Fan', but only by their own efforts. However, a sense of humour and a willingness to get along with other fans is essential. The two halves of this moral are a reflection of Willis's own views. "There's nothing worth the wear of winning, but laughter and the love of friends" runs a quotation in the flyer produced in 1987 to mark the imminent publication of Hyphen 37 (a special issue to mark the 40th anniversary of 'Irish Fandom'). 'Not taking yourself seriously is the only serious way to deal with life' is a quotation in Hyphen 37. So much for the second half of the moral. The first half runs through all of Willis's writings. It is not enough to be easy-going and possess a sense of humour: you must be willing to go out and slog away at whatever projects you see as worth doing. Sycofan in The Enchanted Duplicator is, from Willis's viewpoint, a truly sick fan, not just a grovelling sycophant. Willis's contempt for those who lean too heavily on others is very plain in Chapters 10 and 14, and his impatience with loafers comes out in Chapter 8. Nevertheless, those who push too single-mindedly towards their goal, allowing the Shield of Umor to dull, risk dying in the desert or wandering into the Glades of Gafia. Neither should offers of help and fellowship from fellow fans be lightly refused. Fandom is not a pile of rotting paper and rugged individuals, but a community. I would compare it to a tree, with roots, trunk, and branches as its past and supporting framework, and the leaves as today's generation of fen; the physical expression of an Idea. Every time a new leaf (=fan) appears, the Idea is nurtured and grows. When fans fall out it is weakened and damaged, and if enough fans fall out at once then the Idea dies. (Obviously the analogy is to an evergreen, not deciduous tree!)

The tree is you, me, and that fan over there. For although TED was written for what are today referred to as 'fanzine' fans, it is true for other expressions of fandom. It is what we make of it. [2]

Further Reading


  1. ^ Making Light: Mangling the history of fanfic, Archived version
  2. ^ The Enchanted Duplicator - Introduction and Table of Contents, Archived version