A story for our times: Adolf Hitler’s Hugo-award winning SF classic, Lord of the Swastika

Gautham Shenoy March 3, 2018 8 min

For those that don’t know much about him, here’s a brief biography from Norman Spinrad’s The Iron Dream:

“Adolf Hitler was born in Austria on April 20, 1889. As a young man he migrated to Germany and served in the German army during the Great War. After the war, he dabbled briefly in radical politics in Munich before finally immigrating to New York in 1919. While learning English, he eked out a precarious existence as a sidewalk artist and occasional translator in New York’s bohemian haven, Greenwich Village. After several years of this freewheeling life, he began to pick up odd jobs as a magazine and comic illustrator. He did his first interior illustration for the science-fiction magazine Amazing in 1930. By 1932, he was a regular illustrator for the science-fiction magazines, and, by 1935, he had enough confidence in his English to make his debut as a science-fiction writer. He devoted the rest of his life to the science-fiction genre as a writer, illustrator, and fanzine editor. Although best known to present-day SF fans for his novels and stories. Hitler was a popular illustrator during the Golden Age of the thirties, edited several anthologies, wrote lively reviews, and published a popular fanzine. Storm, for nearly ten years. He won a posthumous Hugo at the 1955 World Science-Fiction Convention for Lord of the Swastika, which was completed just before his death in 1953. For many years, he had been a popular figure at SF conventions, widely known in science-fiction fandom as a wit and nonstop raconteur. Ever since the book’s publication, the colourful costumes he created in Lord of the Swastika have been favourite themes at convention masquerades. Hitler died in 1953, but the stories and novels he left behind remain as a legacy to all science-fiction enthusiasts.”

The 1974 Panther Science Fiction edition of The Iron Dream by Norman Spinrad which contains Adolf Hitler’s Lord of the Swastika. The back cover features rave reviews from SF authors such as Harlan Ellison, Michael Moorcock, Philip José Farmer and Harry Harrison.

The biography above omits the names of the other sci-fi novels that Hitler wrote, which include: The Master Race, The Thousand Year Rule, The Triumph of the Will, Tomorrow the World, Emperor of the Asteroids, The Builders of Mars, and Savior from Space. But it’s Lord of the Swastika that has actually been widely read, hailed, and praised in glowing terms by fellow SF writers such as Michael Moorcock (who compares it to the work of JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, and Oswald Mosley), Harlan Ellison (who calls it ‘disturbingly fascinating), and Harry Harrison who blurbs ‘If Wagner wrote science fiction, this is the way he would do it’.

Well, am sure you’d have figured it out by now. That the metafictional The Iron Dream by Norman Spinrad is a novel-that-contains-another-novel-inside viz Lord of the Swastika

A classic of alternate history, The Iron Dream is set in a world where World War 2 never happened. In this alternate world, the Nazi Party fell apart without Hitler’s leadership because he migrated to the United States (see bio above). Instead, the Communist Party of Germany is successful in fomenting a German communist revolution in 1930, and a ‘Greater Soviet Union’ has taken over the United Kingdom in 1948, and is involved in the genocide of Jews. And in 1953 in America, Adolf Hitler writes a novel called Lord of the Swastika, which forms the bulk of The Iron Dream.

So while you pay for The Iron Dream, what you really get to read is Lord of the Swastika, a science-fantasy novel about one man who achieves his aims of global domination based on the principles of nationalism and racial purity. A thinly veiled version of, and a satirical take on what really happened historically – in our world’s timeline – Lord of the Swastika sees Norman Spinrad turn his writing prowess to channel the real Hitler’s mindset and philosophy into a novel written in the prose style of Mein Kampf. Spinrad expertly plays off our knowledge of what the real Hitler did – and of all that transpired – in the form of a wish-fulfilment sword-and-sorcery story. And to make the whole world believable, early editions – like the 1974 Panther Science Fiction edition of The Iron Dream in my collection (shown above) – had real authors writing admiring faux blurbs for Hitler’s Lord of the Swastika.

Left: Cover of the Avon Science Fiction edition of The Iron Dream, which calls it ‘The most fantastic science fiction novel of our age!’. Right: The Bantam edition showing Hitler on a motorcycle, indicative of the motorcycle gangs that feature in Lord of the Swastika.

Lord of the Swastika is set in a far-future Earth, in a time long after a thermonuclear war has almost wiped out civilisation, with high technology a thing of the past, and one where most gene pools have been contaminated by radioactive fallout leaving most humans as full or half-breed mutants. Into this world comes Feric Jaggar, a pure and strong ‘Trueman’ with zero mutagens, who will rise up to be the leader of the racially pure humans, starting with the country of Heldon, the bastion and home of ‘the last true human genotype’. Tall, powerfully-built in the prime of manhood, with yellow hair and letter-perfect musculature, Feric Jaggar – armed with his mighty weapon, the Great Truncheon of Held – rises to become the leader of Heldon as he fights the enemy to the east – the great fleshpot of Zind, home to the evil Dominators – and the enemy from within, the Universalists who are in the thrall of the Dominators.

Emblazoned with lurid descriptions in the style of high fantasy and filled with florid prose, Lord of the Swastika – in the hands of Spinrad – translates the hysteria and madness of the real Hitler’s oratory into an enjoyable novel form. And of course the unavoidable phallic symbolism. Sample this: “Feric drew the Great Truncheon of Held, the focal object of the racial will, and held this mystic weapon as high above his head as his arm could reach, feeling the power in the huge gleaming shaft merge with the power of his own will, and with the racial consciousness uniting him with his troops in this moment of destiny.” (See cover of the Avon edition above for a rendition of Jaggar wielding his Steel Commander).

Covers of other editions of The Iron Dream, including on the extreme right, the cover of the SF Masterworks edition, which marks this book as one of the ‘Gateway Essentials’

Lord of the Swastika is a pastiche yet entertaining in its outrageous treatment of (the real) Hitler’s own life story and the Nazi movement, but unlike him, Feric Jaggar fulfils his aim of global domination, before setting his sights on conquering the galaxy. Read as fiction, the whole story, premise and outcome feels ludicrous. But life, as they say, is stranger than fiction, and we know exactly what happened historically.

To further drive this point home, Norman Spinrad includes in The Iron Dream a scholarly afterword by the equally-fictional Homer Whipple from the New York University, who, in a scholarly analysis of Lord of the Swastika’s themes and plot concludes that ‘we are fortunate that a monster like Feric Jaggar will forever remain confined to the pages of science fantasy, the fever dream of a neurotic science fiction writer named Adolf Hitler’. Such a mass national psychosis could never occur in the real world he says. Because, it would be preposterous to think “…that an entire nation would throw itself at the feet of a leader simply on the basis of mass displays of public fetishism, orgies of blatant phallic symbolism, and mass rallies enlivened with torchlight and rabid oratory”. As nationalism of all forms sweeps countries across the globe, and supreme leaders emerge weaponising hate to great effect, maybe it’s not a ridiculous notion because after all, it has happened before. And this is what makes The Iron Dream – or rather Lord of the Swastika – more relevant now than perhaps it ever was. The detachment of a reader reading this as fiction brings a distance in which we can read ourselves and the world better.

As Ursula K. Le Guin wrote in her short review of The Iron Dream, “…distancing, the pulling back from “reality” in order to see it better, is perhaps the essential gesture of SF. It is by distancing that SF achieves aesthetic joy, tragic tension, and moral cogency. It is the latter that Spinrad aims for, and achieves. We are forced, in so far as we can continue to read the book seriously, to think, not about Adolf Hitler and his historic crimes–Hitler is simply the distancing medium–but to think about ourselves: our moral assumptions, our ideas of heroism, our desires to lead or to be led, our righteous wars. What Spinrad is trying to tell us is that it is happening here.” That ‘here’ is now.

And that dear reader is why you should put Norman Spinrad’s The Iron Dream on your list, and read Adolf Hitler’s Lord of the Swastika. After all, it’s for a reason it won a Hugo award.

Live long and prosper!


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