Sandworms of Dune

Thursday, July 5, 2007


Sterling E. Lanier (1928-2007)

Brian and I have just learned that Sterling E. Lanier, writer, editor, and sculptor, died on June 28 in Sarasota, Florida. He was 79 years old.

As an editor at Chilton Books in Philadelphia in 1965, Lanier championed the publication of Frank Herbert's DUNE. At Chilton Books -- a publisher of auto-repair manuals -- he was the one who saw the potential in DUNE when more than twenty other publishers had rejected it. He took a chance, and published what would become the best-selling science fiction novel of all time.

Lanier was a writer as well. His own books included The War for the Lot (1969), Hiero’s Journey (1974), Menace Under Marswood (1983), and a series of novels about the strange adventures of Brigadier Donald Ffellowes. He was also a sculptor of miniature creatures, both natural and whimsical.

His sculptures included his vision of the characters from The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R Tolkien. Lanier depended upon his own imagination, for the characters, which were only slightly described in the trilogy, published in 1953-1954. Tolkien accepted and admired a set of the sculptures but, through his advisers, he said that they could not be made commercially available.

When the Lord of the Rings became a movie in 2001, the on-screen characters amazingly resembled Lanier's sculptural portrayals. Tolkien had died in 1973, and so Lanier was seemingly free to market his creations. But he refrained, honoring what he believed to be Tolkien's wishes. Lanier served as a research historian at Winterthur Museum from l958 to 1960 and was an editor at John C. Winston Company, Chilton Books, and McRae-Smith.

I got in touch with Sterling not long ago when Brian Herbert and I were compiling correspondence with Frank Herbert for THE ROAD TO DUNE. He had been ailing for some time in a nursing home, and he seemed both surprised and pleased that anyone remembered him. In ROAD we tried to make it quite clear how crucial his contribution was. I sent him a copy of ROAD TO DUNE as soon as it was published. I’m glad he was able to see it before his death.

-- KJA


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