Symonds, John 1914-2006

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Symonds, John 1914-2006


See index for CA sketch: Born March 12, 1914, in Battersea, England; died October 21, 2006. Author. Although a prolific novelist and playwright for adults, Symonds was better known for his children's books and for being controversial writer Aleister Crowley's literary executor. The illegitimate child of furniture scholar Robert Wemyss Symonds, who ignored his son, Symonds was raised by his mother. He supplemented a rather poor formal education by reading classic literature at the British Museum. Symonds found work at the Picture Post and then the journal Liliput. These literary endeavors had the fortunate side effect of introducing him personally to such authors as Dylan Thomas and George Orwell. More than writing about other authors' accomplishments, though, Symonds wanted to make a name for himself. Over the years, he published over two dozen novels and plays, but only found moderate success writing fiction for adults. Among these works are the novels The Bright Blue Sky (1956), With a View on the Palace (1966), Letters from England (1975), and Oedipus and the Sphinx (1994), as well as such published plays as The Collected Dramatic Works of John Symonds (1981) and The Great Happiness (1987). Symonds was more successful as an author of children's titles, such as the popular The Magic Currant Bun (1952) and Elfrida the Pig (1959). He was also the author of five biographies on Crowley. Symonds first met the infamous Crowley about a year and a half before that author died. Crowley had a been infamous since the 1920s for his self-indulgent lifestyle, his hedonism, and his pagan beliefs, which brought him more celebrity than his books. By the time Symonds met him, Crowley was living a reclusive life, drinking and using hard drugs. It puzzled many people that Crowley would name the much more clean-cut Symonds as his executor, but that is what he did. Symonds did not personally approve of Crowley's lifestyle, but he nevertheless faithfully administered the author's literary estate. In his biographies of Crowley, he strove to portray the man honestly, presenting a more moderate, objective view of the man who had been falsely accused of everything from Satanism to treason. Among the biographies are The Magic of Aleister Crowley (1958), The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: An Autohagiography (1969), and The King of the Shadow Realm: Aleister Crowley, His Life and Magic (1989). Symonds also edited and coedited several Crowley collections.



St. James Guide to Children's Writers, 5th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1995.


Times (London, England), November 10, 2006, p. 70.