Shambleau is the first story published by C. L. Moore in the November 1933 issue of weird tales. To many fans of the genre,  C.L. Moore is the uncrowned Grand Wizard of science fiction and fantasy.  Had she been in good health and not died in 1987 she would be the first female Grand Wizard. To date, we have 33 Grand Wizards, and only 5 of them are women. It says much about her writing and recognition from colleagues. Shambleau is a brilliant short story because the tale entwined itself with perfection and imperfection.  So subtle is the blending you the reader gain insight into a mythological creature once perceived as a monster but illogically garnering sympathy and erotic fantasies by our confused hero and the reader. The purpose of this writing journal is to analyze the perfection and imperfection of the classic short story Shambleau, ultimately explaining how it maintains its brilliance with the gradation of imperfection.  My conclusion or final analyses will point to if the story still stands up to the fantasy and science fiction narrative developed today.


From the abstract, the reader is aware that one of the characters or many may be a form of a vampire, however, not in the conventional satanic evil forming of traditional vampires. The perfection is ultimately adhering to the science fiction and combining the earthly demonic vampire and mythological Gorgon. Moore’s introductory paragraph is perfection the following direct long quote illustrates her skill for combining words into a poetic wisdom with symbolic meanings to come forth.


“ “Shambleau! Ha. Shambleau!” The wild hysteria of the mob rocketed from wall to wall of Lakkdarol’s narrow streets, and the storming of heavy boots over the slag-red pavement made an ominous undertone to that swelling bay, “Shambleau! Shambleau!”Northwest Smith heard it coming and stepped into the nearest doorway, laying a weary hand on his heat gun’s grip, and his colorless eyes narrowed.Strange sounds were common enough in the streets of Earth’s latest colony on Mars—a raw, red little town where anything might happen, and very often did. But Northwest Smith, whose name is known and respected in every dive and wild outpost on a dozen wild planets, was a cautious man, despite his reputation. He set his back against the wall and gripped his pistol, and heard the rising shout come nearer and nearer.” (Wolf. 1999, PG 137)

Moore’s wants the reader to envision a new world with new creatures along with subtle hints of interbreeding between earth people and alien beings.  We ‘re well into the future of space travel, but the writer takes us back to the nineteenth century American wild west spacemen style.  As I’m reading, I envision the rustic red planet and windy deserts along with bawdy hotels where mixed breed beings aliens entertain the men much like the saloon girls of the old wild west.  I love the protagonist Northwest Smith bravado and his  Lone Ranger attitude in sticking up for the demure and cat-like entity.  It is brilliant how the Shambleau goes from a female in distress to sexual attraction to antagonist.  Moreover, the look of horror when the colonist accepts the spaceman Northwest willingness to help the girl. The colonist look of degradation upon Northwest raises so many questions on what kind of abominable act he may commit with the creature known as Shambleau. Northwest likens the reception to himself committing cannibalism or something unclean in the eyes of God. On page 140 the crowd disperses after Northwest claims the girls belongs to him.  However, he notices something deeper and more rooted than that. Instinctive, utter disgust had been in the faces he saw—they would have looked less so if he had admitted cannibalism or {Pharol-worship}. Like Northwest we the readers become curious to what secrets the exotic alien owns. Perfection achieved by blending the expected and unexpected and not knowing if the expected is the unexpected. For example, the conversation between the two,  Shambleau answers Northwest question by stating, “ my people—are—are—you have no word. Your speech—hard for me.”What’s yours? I might know it—try me.”She lifted her head and met his eyes squarely, and there was in hers subtle amusement—he could have sworn it.”Someday I—speak to you in—my own.”

You’re under the impression they are going to meet again in other stories.  Nothing prepares you for the ending though expected unexpected ultimately bringing out the flaws and brilliance of imperfection.



Imperfection or deficiencies are ultimately leaving you wanting more and feeling cheated. I believe Shambleau should have escaped after all she is immortal. Hence we come to our first flaw because Medusa is a mortal woman who is cursed by Athena. Medusa dies at the hands of Perseus.  Medusa had two sisters who were immortal Euryale and Stheno. The story would have presented more intrigue if they hid the opening title and used Euryale or Stheno as the Shambleau an immortal to turn men to stone, drain their blood or give them the pain of immortality.  To continue Moore could have worked her magic placing more importance on the strange odour as an aphrodisiac to weaken the mind of men and open them to all pleasures pure and unpure that life has to offer. A strange scent is known to Martians citizens as the odor of death. A powerful female demon who creates havoc every 50 years or so it would present a case for Northwest ignorance of the Shambleau. Another imperfection is the mob’s bravery in numbers. The citizens are becoming the hunters. It seemed weak in that the abstract talks of vampires and Gorgon’s as possessing invisible gifts yet still the men were able to seek out a demon for execution.  Moore leaves out important details such as the word {pharol} you get a sense it is an unclean act opposite to all that is good. I imagine bestiality, incest, cannibalism pedophilia being a {pharol} act.


Nonetheless, the imperfections emanate perfection. C.L. Moore brings a woman’s touch and expertise in weaving words into poetic ecstasy and a hint of forbidden sex with an alien being something not human-beast-but more worldly and erotically more sexual and violent than humanity. Although the creature is a young girl, you get the sense she is older than time itself. Although the Martian colonist perceives her as an unclean inferior animal, you have a sense her culture and species may be more advanced than known civilizations.  Finally, the character of the Venusian {Yarol} appears to be too redundant in explaining what we know already of the legend of Medusa. He saved his friend by avoiding eye contact with the Gorgon. It seems impossible one man could survive such a peril without previous knowledge of his nemesis behind the unopened door.  I so much would have appreciated the Gorgon upon hearing the footsteps of the Venusian disappear out the window with cat-like stealth. Shambleau senses were keen throughout the story until the end. The ending of the story is premature and inconsistent to the path the tale took. I would have liked the demon escaping and Northwest encountering Shambleau in other stories.

In conclusion, Northwest does appear in other stories of Moore. However, the tale of Shambleau ends. A sequel to Shambleau never materialized. However, the story stands the test of time, and the imperfections blend well with its perfection.  A woman has the courage to take the directive and change sci-fiction and fantasy forever. C.L Moore truly is an iconic figure within women liberation.  Moore is the mother of science fiction and where every author such as Anne Rice recognizes her genius by adding her style in many of her novels.  C.L  Moore reminds me of Virginia Woolf one particular novel Orlando. I ‘m certain Virginia  Woolf may have been one of her icons. Maybe just maybe the author left Shambleau for future generations of writers to develop.

By Courtney Duncan

APA (American Psychological Assoc.)
Wolf, L. (1999). Blood Thirst: 100 Years of Vampire Fiction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.