Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Alan Miller

Alan Miller  (b. reg. Epsom, Surrey, Oct-Dec 1888;d . reg. Isle of Wight, Hampshire, Jul-Sep 1965)

**updated December 2015**

Alan Lawrence Miller was the son of Walter Miller (1857-1938) and his wife Maud Lawrence (1863-1928), who were married in Arlesford, Hampshire, in 1887.  He had one sister five years younger than himself.  Miller was educated at St. John's College (now Hustpierpoint College) in West Sussex, and he studied dentistry at Birmingham University. During his time in Birmingham he had at least three single-act plays licensed and produced, "Ninepence for Fourpence" (licensed February 1913), "The Pilgrim's Progress" (licensed November 1913), and "Cut That Nerve" (licensed February 1914). Miller went on to practice dentistry in Birkenhead, where he had three more plays licensed and (possibly) produced, "The Ray" (licensed May 1924),  "Vallingdale Hall" (licensed May 1924), and "A Lace Handkerchief" (licensed November 1924). He married Doris Smith in Birkenhead on 7 December 1933.

According to the British Museum Catalogue, he authored four books, the first being a small volume of poetry called Random Rhymes (Birkenhead: Wilmer Brothers & Co., 1920).  This was followed over a decade later by his first novel, The King of Men (London: Nash & Grayson, 1931), which is a curious mix of everyday romance with an M.P. Shiel-like plot about a scientist who unleashes upon the world a disease that takes away all natural desires, thereby threatening the end of humankind.  The scientist who invented the disease is found dead, but his assistant eventually (though reluctantly) works out the cure.  The title of the book refers to Time.  The Times Literary Supplement of 14 May 1931 noted that “the main idea, the disease, is a good one, but it is wasted in this rather shapeless, superficial book.”

Miller’s next, The Phantoms of a Physician (London: Grayson & Grayson, 1934), is an episodic novel narrating fifteen stories of personal experience by Dr. J. W. Vivian, a doctor who finds himself frequently in communication with the dead, and investigates supernatural occurrences.  These experiences gradually grow more harrowing, and lead up to a final terrifying ordeal in which Vivian nearly loses his life as well as his reason. The Times Literary Supplement of 6 September 1934 summed up the book as follows:  “Although none of the incidents described is strikingly original, the series as a whole is very effective, and will appeal to all with a liking for the occult or the macabre.”

Miller’s final book was Close of Play (London: St. Hugh’s Press, 1949), which is basically a short story printed with wide spacing and illustrations (done by Bip Pares) to make it into a small book.  It is a sentimental fantasy about cricket, in which the elderly Reverend Septimus Jones is called upon to play for his country in an important Test match, fulfilling a lifelong dream.  Of course Jones has died, but whether the events of the story are a dream fantasy while Jones is dying, or an afterlife fantasy, is left ambiguous.  R. C. Robertson-Glasgow contributed a short appreciative foreword, noting that “even those who have never crossed a street or lane to watch a cricket-match will surely recognize that Close of Play is in its kind a masterpiece.”

Not listed in the British Museum Catalogue is another poetry collection, Mixed Grill (Birkenhead:  Willmer Brothers & Co., 1932); this seems certainly to have been by the same Alan Miller. 

NB: I'm grateful to Andrew Parry for supplying biographical information presented here. An earlier version of this entry appeared in my column “Notes on Neglected Fantasists”, Fastitocalon no. 1 (2010).  

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