Throughout his long life, famed science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke corresponded with numerous people. Some correspondence is well known, such as Clarke’s letters to Stanley Kubrick during the making of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Other correspondences are in the realm of unexpected, ranging from Clarke’s letters to famed astronomer and science popularizer Carl Sagan to famed Indian film director Satyajit Ray to a bevy of who’s who in Hollywood from actor Leonard DiCaprio to maverick director James Cameron. As I have been digitizing over 20+ boxes of the collection for the National Air and Space Museum Archives, the correspondence perfectly exemplifies how Arthur C. Clarke could hobnob with a wide range of people in different professions. In this post, I want to examine the correspondents that Clarke had with Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999), rocket scientist and pioneer Wernher von Braun (1912-1977), and Irish fantasy author Edward Plunkett, who published under the name Lord Dunsany (1878-1957).
When the names “Stanley Kubrick” and “Arthur C. Clarke” are uttered together, it usually refers to the time both men spent making and promoting one of the most influential films of all time, 2001: A Space Odyssey. While the Clarke Collection does contain numerous correspondence between Stanley and him during the making of 2001, their interactions didn’t stop after the film was released in 1968. Throughout the 1970s, Clarke and Kubrick kept in touch with each other with Clarke particularly being interested in Kubrick’s subsequent works, such as A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon. Additionally, the two would also discuss 2001, but more in the realm of financial and legal matters pertaining to the film’s distribution and use. What can be gathered from this series of correspondence is that Clarke and Kubrick kept in touch with each other long after their famed cinematic collaboration.
Wernher von Braun
During the 1960s, as the Space Race was reaching its climax with the Apollo Moon landings, Clarke corresponded with one of the main purveyors that helped energize America’s appetite for all things lunar. That man was famed rocket scientist Wernher von Braun. Through von Braun’s articles and his TV specials produced by Disney, the German rocket scientist was able to sell both the American public and the world on the necessity of space travel. The letters exchanged between Clarke and von Braun perfectly showcase both men’s passion for space travel and science. This is most particularly evident in a series of letters that Clarke and von Braun exchanged during the 1970s, when von Braun founded the National Space Institute (which was later succeeded as The National Space Society). This organization was founded by von Braun to advocate for public support for America’s space program after the last Apollo Moon missions in 1972. This correspondence showcases both Arthur Clarke’s interest and investment in the development of space travel for all humanity.
Edward Plunkett (Lord Dunsany)
Even before Arthur C. Clarke became famous for his science fiction works, he, like many of his peers in the genre, had to start somewhere. For the young Clarke, growing up in the English town of Minehead, that meant reading the main luminaries of the science fiction and fantasy, from H. G. Wells to Edgar Rice Burroughs to a little-known Irish writer named Lord Dunsany. Lord Dunsany was a pen name for Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany. During the early 20th century Lord Dunsany published numerous works ranging from novels to plays to short stories that covered several genres including science fiction, crime and fantasy. It is the latter genre that Lord Dunsany became known for with his book The Gods of Pegāna, a collection of short stories all interconnected by a pantheon Dunsany created for his own fantasy world. This book heavily influenced Arthur C. Clarke as a young man, so much so that Clarke wrote a series of letters to Lord Dunsany between 1944 to 1956. These were later published in a book called Arthur C. Clarke & Lord Dunsany: A Correspondence. This correspondence series perfectly showcases Clarke’s admiration of a fellow author who was a giant in a specific literary genre, which would greatly influence Clarke’s own writing and somewhat foreshadow Clarke becoming a giant in and out of his own literary genre of science fiction.
The above correspondence provides just a sampling of the diverse group of people that corresponded with Clarke. It perfectly showcases how influential Clarke’s science fiction was to the whole world, especially in the development of space flight.
October is American Archives Month! You can find postings about our collections and activities by the staff of the National Air and Space Museum Archives.
George Tyler Crock is a contract archivist with the National Air and Space Museum Archives. He is currently digitizing the Arthur C. Clarke Collection of Sri Lanka. He has also digitized the Sally K. Ride Papers and the Herbert Stephen Desind Collection.