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Francis Stevens (Gertrude Barrows Bennett)

The Heads of Cerberus

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A dystopian fantasy story, with a touch of Alice in Wonderland – a book that has been said to be “the precursor of the entire parallel worlds tradition in fiction” – certainly a fascinating and very readable book, by a major fantasy writer of the early 20th century.


About the Author

Gertrude Mabel Barrows was born in Minneapolis in 1884. In 1909 she married the British journalist and explorer Stewart Bennett, and they moved to Philadelphia; he died the following year while on a treasure hunting expedition. With a new-born daughter to raise, Gertrude Bennett continued working as a stenographer as she had before her marriage. When her father died toward the end of World War I, she assumed care for her invalid mother. Much earlier, at the age of 17, she had written a science fiction story which got published in 1904 in the Mazazine Argosy, now she resumed writing to add to her income, her short stories and novels getting published in various magazines. A few early works apart, all of her work dates from the period of 1917–1920; in 1920, after her mother had died, she stopped writing. Little is known about her later life. In the mid-1920s she placed her daughter in the care of friends and moved to California, where she died in 1948.

In the short period in which she was active as an author, Gertrude Barrows Bennett wrote five novels (The Citadel of Fear, The Labyrinth, The Heads of Cerberus, Avalon, and Claimed) as well as a number of short stories and novellas. Though she is little known today, her texts, still very readable, occupy an important space in the history of fantasy and science fiction literature – Gary C. Hoppenstand has called her “the woman who invented dark fantasy,” Scott Lazarus “possibly the most important female writer of speculative fiction that you’ve probably never heard of” and “one of the founders of the weird tales tradition, and the most important woman writer of fantasy in the early pulp era,” and adds that “The Heads of Cerberus is sometimes noted as the precursor of the entire parallel worlds tradition in fiction.” Gertrude Barrows Bennett deserves recognition as a major author, and her work can still fascinate and entertain.


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