Fletcher Pratt

Murray Fletcher Pratt (25 April 1897 – 10 June 1956) was an American writer of science fiction, fantasy and history. He is best known for his works on naval history and on the American Civil War and for fiction written with L. Sprague de Camp.

Fletcher Pratt
Fletcher Pratt, as pictured in the June 1929 issue of Science Wonder Stories
Fletcher Pratt, as pictured in the June 1929 issue of Science Wonder Stories
Born(1897-04-25)April 25, 1897
Buffalo, New York
DiedJune 10, 1956(1956-06-10) (aged 59)
Long Branch, New Jersey, US
Pen nameIrvin Lester, George U. Fletcher
OccupationNovelist, historian
GenreScience fiction, fantasy, history
Notable worksOrdeal by Fire

Life and workEdit

Fletcher Pratt (left) with fellow Baker Street Irregulars Christopher Morley and Rex Stout (1944)

According to de Camp, Pratt was born near Tonawanda, New York, and attended Hobart College for one year. During the 1920s he worked for the Buffalo Courier-Express and for a Staten Island newspaper. In 1926, he married Inga Stephens, an artist.[1] In the late 1920s he began selling stories to pulp magazines. Again, according to de Camp's memoir, when a fire gutted his apartment in the 1930s he used the insurance money to study at the Sorbonne for a year. After that he began writing histories.

Pratt's's novelette "The Octopus Cycle" was the cover story in the May 1928 Amazing Stories

Pratt was a military analyst for Time magazine (whose obituary described him as "bearded, gnome-like" and listed "raising marmosets" among his hobbies),[2] as well as a regular reviewer of historical nonfiction and fantasy and science fiction for the New York Times Book Review.

Pratt was the inventor of a set of rules for naval wargaming, which he created before the Second World War. This was known as the "Fletcher Pratt Naval War Game" and it involved dozens of tiny wooden ships, built on a scale of one inch to 50 feet. These were spread over the floor of Pratt's apartment and their maneuvers were calculated via a complex mathematical formula. Noted author and artist Jack Coggins was a frequent participant in Pratt's Navy Game, and de Camp met him through his wargaming group.[3]

Pratt established the literary dining club known as the Trap Door Spiders in 1944. The name is a reference to the exclusive habits of the trapdoor spider, which when it enters its burrow pulls the hatch shut behind it. The club was later fictionalized as the Black Widowers in a series of mystery stories by Isaac Asimov. Pratt himself was fictionalized in one story, "To the Barest", as the Widowers’ founder, Ralph Ottur.

He was also a charter member of The Civil War Round Table of New York, organized in 1951, and served as its president from 1953-1954. In 1956, after his death, the Round Table's board of directors established the Fletcher Pratt Award in his honor, which is presented every May to the author or editor of the best non-fiction book on the Civil War published during the preceding calendar year.[4]

Aside from his historical writings, Pratt is best known for his fantasy collaborations with de Camp, the most famous of which is the humorous Harold Shea series, was eventually published in full as The Complete Compleat Enchanter (1989, ISBN 0-671-69809-5). His solo fantasy novels The Well of the Unicorn and The Blue Star are also highly regarded.

Pratt wrote in a markedly identifiable prose style, reminiscent of the style of Bernard DeVoto. One of his books is dedicated "To Benny DeVoto, who taught me to write."

Several of Pratt's books were illustrated by Inga Stephens Pratt, his wife.



Novellas (short novels)Edit

  • "Asylum Satellite" (1951)
  • "The Wanderer's Return" (1951)


Harold SheaEdit


A Pratt-de Camp "Gavagan's Bar" story was cover-featured on the January 1959 issue of Fantastic Universe


Twayne Triplets (edited)Edit


  • Fletcher Pratt's Naval War Game (1940). A book on the Fletcher Pratt Naval Wargame was printed in 2011. See link
  • A Man and His Meals (1947)
  • World of Wonder : an Introduction to Imaginative Literature (1951)


  • All About Famous Inventors and Their Inventions (1955) illustrated by Rus Anderson
  • All About Rockets and Jets (1955) illustrated by Jack Coggins
  • Rockets, Jets, Guided Missiles and Spaceships (1951) with Jack Coggins
  • By Space Ship to the Moon (1952) with Jack Coggins
  • Rockets, Satellites and Space Travel (1958) with Jack Coggins

History and BiographyEdit

Naval HistoryEdit
  • The Compact History of the United States Navy (1957) OCLC 367782
  • Empire and the Sea (1946) with Inga Stephens
  • Fighting Ships of the U.S. Navy (1941) illustrated by Jack Coggins
  • Fleet Against Japan (1946)
  • The Navy has Wings; the United States Naval Aviation (1943)
  • The Navy, a History; the Story of a Service in Action (1938)
  • The Navy's War (1944)
  • Night Work: the Story of Task force 39 (1946) OCLC 1492544
  • Preble's Boys; Commodore Preble and the Birth of American Sea Power (1950) LCCN 50-10765
  • Sea Power and Today's War (1939) OCLC 1450484
  • Ships, Men - and Bases (1941) with Frank Knox
  • A Short History of the Army and Navy (1944)
The Napoleonic WarsEdit
  • The Empire and the Glory; Napoleon Bonaparte: 1800-1806 (1948)
  • Road to Empire; the Life and Times of Bonaparte, the General (1939)
War of 1812Edit
  • The Heroic Years; Fourteen Years of the Republic, 1801-1815 (1934)
The Civil WarEdit
  • Ordeal by Fire; an Informal History of the Civil War (1935)
  • The Monitor and the Merrimac (1951)
  • The Military Genius of Abraham Lincoln : an Essay (1951) by Colin R. Ballard; introduction by Pratt
  • Stanton, Lincoln's Secretary of War (1953)
  • The Civil War (1955)
  • Civil War in Pictures (1955)
  • Civil War on Western Waters (1956)
World War IIEdit
  • America and Total War (1941)
  • The U.S. Army : a Guide to its Men and Equipment (1942) with David Pattee
  • What the Citizen Should Know about Modern War (1942)
  • The Marines' War, an Account of the Struggle for the Pacific from Both American and Japanese Sources (1948)
  • War for the World; a Chronicle of Our Fighting Forces in World War II (1950)
"The City of the Living Dead" was republished in a 1947 issue of Avon Fantasy Reader
  • The Cunning Mulatto and Other Cases of Ellis Parker, American Detective (1935) with Ellis Parker
  • Hail, Caesar! (1936)
  • The Lost Battalion (1938) with Thomas M. Johnson
  • Muscle-power Artillery (1938)
  • "The City of the Living Dead" (1939) with Laurence Manning.
  • Secret and Urgent; the Story of Codes and Ciphers (1939) OCLC 795019
  • My Life to the Destroyers (1944) with L. A. Abercrombie
  • Eleven Generals; Studies in American Command (1949)
  • The Third King (1950)
  • The Battles that Changed History (1956) ISBN 0-486-41129-X


  1. ^ Preface by David Madden to A Short History of the Civil War: Ordeal by Fire by Fletcher Pratt.
  2. ^ ""Milestones", Time, June 18, 1956
  3. ^ For further details about the game, including much previously unpublished material, see the Fletcher Pratt Naval Wargame, published in 2011 by the History of Wargaming Project www.wargaming.co
  4. ^ "The Fletcher Pratt Award". Civil War Round Table. Retrieved December 27, 2017.

External linksEdit