sense of wonder n.

a feeling of awakening or awe brought on by an expansion of one’s awareness of what may be possible; the primary emotional experience of reading science fiction n. 2; see also sensawunda n.

In its specific sense, associated chiefly with Sam Moskowitz. See also sensawunda n.

SF Encyclopedia

SF Criticism

  • [ 1881 History of Sangamon County, Illinois 195/2

    The scene of the mountains and of the prairie are widely different. The one grand and full of life, but impressing the first beholder with a sense of beauty; the other silent, grand, sublime, and impressing its first beholder with a sense of wonder and awe, but alike suggestive of the thought that none but God, One, Almighty, Allwise, could make them, and with wonder that anyone could doubt it, or believe that they came into existence by chance, by evolution or the aggregation of sentient particles of matter. ]

  • 1936 ‘C. Dane’ American Fairy Tales in Fortnightly Apr. 466

    Its fairy-tales will be the literary expression of its particular sense of wonder, its individual conception of delight.

  • 1936 ‘C. Dane’ American Fairy-Tale in North American Review Autumn 147

    For three years in short these papers have been an enormous amusement to me, for crude, illiterate, slangy as most of the stories are, they do none the less represent a stirring of the ancient sense of wonder, the human love of magic, in a continent poor in legends and peopled by aliens from all over the world. These amazing magazines call themselves ‘science fiction.’ But they are nothing in the world but America’s fairy-tales.

  • 1946 H. Kuttner Absalom in Startling Stories Fall 96/1 Henry Kuttner

    You couldn’t understand it yourself. You tried it, and it was beyond you. You're not flexible. Your logic isn’t flexible. It’s founded on the fact that a second-hand registers sixty seconds. You've lost the sense of wonder. You've translated to [sic] much from abstract to concrete. I can understand entropic logic. I can understand it!

  • 1951 M. Lesser Sense of Wonder in Galaxy Science Fiction Sept. 67 (title) Milton Lesser

    The sense of wonder.

  • 1956 D. Knight Reading and Writhin' in Future Science Fiction May 126/2 Damon Knight

    Science fiction exists to provide what Moskowitz and others call ‘the sense of wonder’: in more precise terms, some widening of the mind’s horizons, in no matter what direction—the landscape of another planet, or a corpuscle’s-eye view of an artery, or what it feels like to be in rapport with a cat…any new sensory experience, impossible to the reader in his own person, is grist for the mill and what the activity of science-fiction writing is all about.

  • 1959 R. Eney Fancyclopedia II 145 Dick Eney bibliography

    Sense of wonder (Moskowitz), that which characterizes stfnists (def. 2) in general; and, the quality in science-fiction that arouses their admiration. Much jeering at SaM’s expense has accompanied his proclamations of need for/discovery of this commodity, and many doubt that the phrase really describes anything more definite than the glow of enjoyment.

  • 1963 Proceedings: Chicon III 55

    SAM MOSKOWITZ: No, I think the conversation has been very good, very lucid, and very entertaining. I have just been sitting back here taking it all in. I was a little surprised to find, through the years, that this term had caught on. I didn’t create the term, ‘Sense of Wonder,’ I just used it. And it’s been defined by Rollo May in his book, Man’s Search For Himself, as a sort of opening attitude, a feeling that there is more to the universe than has been yet observed and that of an awakening attitude. The only thing I can add is that I always felt that modern times science fiction was written for jaded old fans like me.

  • 1973 D. N. Samuelson Childhood’s End: A Median Stage of Adolescence in Science Fiction Studies Spring 93

    Technological extrapolation, the enthronement of reason, the ‘cosmic viewpoint’, alien contact, and a ‘sense of wonder’ achieved largely through the manipulation of mythic symbolism are all important elements in this visionary novel.

  • 1981 V. McIntyre Straining Your Eyes Through Viewscreen Blues in F. Herbert Nebula Winners Fifteen Vonda N. McIntyre bibliography

    When I was a kid I used to wonder why people in sf stories always wrote with a stylus; I was curious what a stylus was and what made it different from a pencil or a pen. Imagine the damage to my sense of wonder when I realized that a stylus was a pencil or a pen, that all those exotic-sounding cold drinks were martinis or beer, that all those interesting hot drinks were coffee or tea.

  • 1982 D. Hartwell The Golden Age of Science Fiction is Twelve in Top of News (1982, issue number unknown) 42 David G. Hartwell

    A sense of wonder, awe at the vastness of space and time, is at the root of the excitement of science fiction.

  • 1992 Locus Aug. 30/2

    Mars offered us good old-fashioned sense-of-wonder sf, with the politics fairly well in the background.

  • 2001 Science Fiction Chronicle July 38/1

    The conflict seems an internal one to the genre as well, reappearing year after year in new garb, whether as cries bemoaning the loss of the ‘sense of wonder’ or cries to reanimate Heinlein’s serious term ‘speculative fiction’.

Research requirements

antedating 1936

Research History
Leah Zeldes submitted a 1959 cite from Fancyclopedia II.
James A. Landau submitted a cite from Damon Knight's article "The Classics" in a 1968 reprint of "In Search of Wonder"; Alistair Durie verified the 1956 original printing in Future Science Fiction.
Enoch Forrester submitted a cite from a 1978 reprint of Brian Ash's 1977 "A Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction".
Jeff Prucher submitted a cite from a 1995 reprint of David N. Samuelson's 1973 "Childhood's End: A Median Stage of Adolescence".
Jeff Prucher submitted a 1981 cite from Vonda McIntyre's "The Straining Your Eyes Through the Viewscreen Blues".
Jeff Prucher submitted a cite from a 1967 edition of Damon Knight's "In Search of Wonder" (in a review of Chad Oliver's "Another Kind"); Mike Christie verified the original appearance in the March 1956 "Original Science Fiction Stories".
Jeff Prucher submitted a 1984 cite from David Hartwell's "Age of Wonders".
Fred Galvin submitted a 1963 cite from Sam Moskowitz in "The Proceedings; CHICON III".
Fred Galvin located and Alistair Durie submitted a 1951 cite from Milton Lesser's "The Sense of Wonder".
Fred Galvin submitted a 1946 cite from Henry Kuttner's "Absalom".
Fred Galvin submitted cite from a reprint of Clemence Dane's "American Fairy Tails" which Jeff Prucher verified in the original 1936 publication in The Fortnightly.
Fred Galvin submitted a 1956 cite from Roger De Soto in Amazing Stories which suggests that Sam Moskowitz originated the phrase in his columns in "fan-and-prozines"; we would like to see cites from his earlier columns.
Bill Mullins submitted a 1912 cite from Seymour Currey's "Chicago, its history and its builders".
Bill Mullins submitted an 1881 cite from the "History of Sangamon County, Illinois".

We would still like citations for this phrase in a science fiction context earlier than 1936.

Last modified 2022-01-15 18:20:31
In the compilation of some entries, HDSF has drawn extensively on corresponding entries in OED.