JOHN ANTHONY “The Hypnoglyth.” First published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, July 1953. Reprinted in Portals of Tomorrow, edited by August Derleth (Rinehart, hardcover, 1954), and A Decade of Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Robert P. Mills (Doubleday, hardcover, 1960).

   A word first, if you will, about August Derleth’s Portals of Tomorrow anthology. I never realized it before, but having recently decided to read a long-owned copy, it’s clear that its original intent was that it was to be the first of a “Best of the Year” series of anthologies, this one covering SF for the year 1953. If the subtitle doesn’t give it away: “The Best Tales of Science Fiction and Other Fantasy,” then Derleth’s introduction does, without quite saying so but obvious by reading between the words. Perhaps the publisher had a change of heart somewhere along the way.

   And so, what I’ve also decided to do is to read my way through the book and report back on each of the stories as I do. The year 1953 was maybe six years before I started reading the SF magazines from the local newsstand, so I wouldn’t have had the chance to read them while the ink was still fresh on them. These will be my opinions today, not from back then, often based on seeing them for the first time, not from later collections or anthologies.

   And at first glance, “The Hypoglyth” is a strange choice to begin a book with. Neither the title or author was at all familiar to me. Not even learning that “John Anthony” was the pen name of John Ciardi helped at all. But Derleth was right. This one’s a small gem of storytelling.

   There are only two characters in the tale. One is a returned space traveler  telling a friend about his adventures on a primitive planet he has just visited. To that end, he hands his companion a strange woodlike artifact which is not wood, but which has a small hollow on one side. As the space traveler goes on with his story, the other cannot help but use his thumb to continually stroke the hollow. It is as if he is being hypnotized by it, but if so, to what end?

   I wish I could tell you more, or even hint at more, but I can’t. Suffice it to say that if you play close attention to what the one man tells the other about life on the planet, everything is there to fall into place at the sweetly foreshadowed ending. Emphasis on sweetly, as say a Stanley Ellin story in another genre altogether.