Torchlight to Valhalla

Last updated
Torchlight to Valhalla
Torchlight to Valhalla 1985 Cover.jpg
Torchlight to Valhalla
1985 Naiad Press Cover
AuthorGale Wilhelm
CountryUnited States
Genre lesbian fiction
Publisher Random House (orig)
Naiad Press
Publication date
Pages191, Random House
ISBN 0-930044-68-1
OCLC 12870253

Torchlight to Valhalla is a lesbian-themed novel published by Random House in 1938, written by Gale Wilhelm. The novel is considered a classic in lesbian fiction, being one of the few hardbound novels with lesbian content to be published in the early 20th century. Quite rare for lesbian fiction in this time, the ending is actually satisfactory for the lesbian characters. It was also reissued in 1953 by Lion Publishers, but titled The Strange Path. It was re-issued once more in 1985 by Naiad Press under its original title. It was Wilhelm's second novel after We Too Are Drifting , both of them containing lesbian themes. One 2002 review of the book noted that it was released "just ten years after Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness . Wilhelm has created a work of self-exploration that bears little resemblance to the tormented world of Hall’s Stephen Gordon." [1]

Lesbian Homosexual woman

A lesbian is a homosexual woman. The word lesbian is also used for women in relation to their sexual identity or sexual behavior regardless of sexual orientation, or as an adjective to characterize or associate nouns with female homosexuality or same-sex attraction.

Random House general-interest trade book publisher

Random House is an American book publisher and the largest general-interest paperback publisher in the world. As of 2013, it is part of Penguin Random House, which is jointly owned by German media conglomerate Bertelsmann and British global education and publishing company Pearson PLC.

Gale Wilhelm was an American writer most noted for two books that featured lesbian themes written in the 1930s: We Too Are Drifting and Torchlight to Valhalla.


Plot summary

Morgen Teutenberg is an introverted 21-year-old woman nursing her dying father Fritz, who is a painter. She is developing a novel with her father's assistance. Out walking one day, she meets a very handsome young man, Royal St. Gabriel, a piainist who is quite taken with her. Royal pursues her romantically despite Morgen's lack of enthusiasm. Fritz dies very soon after Morgen meets Royal, and she is devastated by his loss and nonplussed by Royal's attention, not seeming to welcome it, but flattered by his gentlemanly manners and thoughtfulness. He buys her a radio and has it delivered to her house with a letter telling her when to tune in to a station. When she does, she hears a composition he has written for her that she imagines describes her perfectly. For five months they have a friendship characterized by Royal's unabashed love for Morgen, and her not sure how to tell him that she is grateful for his friendship, but does not want to pursue anything deeper with him.

On Christmas Eve, overwhelmed with missing her father again, she turns to Royal and they sleep together. Royal is overcome with gratitude, not believing she has given herself to him at last, but Morgen does not enjoy the experience and realizes she went to him out of loneliness. She tells him this and he is hurt by it. He travels frequently and leaves her again, unsure of how to reach her.

In his absence, she meets new neighbors who have moved into a house nearby. A 16-year-old woman named Toni lives with her aunt. They have known each other before as children and Morgen is thrilled to have Toni back so close by. In sharp contrast to her relationship with Royal, she and Toni find themselves kindred almost immediately. They spend several nights together, and are quite hesitant to leave each other. When Royal returns, he notices something with Morgen is wrong immediately. She tells him, "I am two and the other is Toni." He is stunned, but when he accepts it, for the first time she realizes how much she likes him.

Explanation of the novel's title

Soon before Fritz dies, he comments that he will be on his way to Valhalla soon, and he is prepared for it because he is so very happy since Morgen has just finished a very good novel. He tells her that his happiness will serve as his torch in order to arrive there safely. His comment serves as the impetus for her to realize what should make her happy in her life.

Valhalla in Norse mythology enormous hall located in Asgard

In Norse mythology, Valhalla is a majestic, enormous hall located in Asgard, ruled over by the god Odin. Chosen by Odin, half of those who die in combat travel to Valhalla upon death, led by valkyries, while the other half go to the goddess Freyja's field Fólkvangr. In Valhalla, the dead join the masses of those who have died in combat known as Einherjar and various legendary Germanic heroes and kings, as they prepare to aid Odin during the events of Ragnarök. Before the hall stands the golden tree Glasir, and the hall's ceiling is thatched with golden shields. Various creatures live around Valhalla, such as the stag Eikþyrnir and the goat Heiðrún, both described as standing atop Valhalla and consuming the foliage of the tree Læraðr.

Criticism and recognition

Reviewers noted first Wilhelm's style of prose, which was characterized as "beautifully written", "sensitive", and "dignified," [2] [3] [4] contrasting with a description of it being a "moody dose of emotionalism." [4] All the reviewers of course noted the lesbian content (calling it "woman's love for woman") and disagreed as to whether it was handled gracefully and unsensationally, or if it indicated Wilhelm was unable to break out of a format by handling the same subject matter twice in two novels.

Said one reviewer, "Torchlight to Valhalla is not a story for sensation-mongers, nor is it for those who prefer 'morals' packaged up in simple bundles of black and white. It is, rather, a novel for readers who accept the author's quiet candor and appreciate the scrupulous artistry with which she has described a not-too-happy kind of happiness." [5]

Related Research Articles

<i>Metroland</i> (film) 1997 British comedy-drama film directed by Philip Saville

Metroland is a 1997 British comedy-drama film directed by Philip Saville and starring Christian Bale and Emily Watson. Written by Adrian Hodges, based on the novel Metroland by Julian Barnes, the film is about a man whose calm and predictable life is disrupted by the sudden reappearance after ten years of his best friend, which leads him to remember his carefree youth in Paris, to question some of his lifestyle decisions, and to re-evaluate his life and marriage. Mark Knopfler wrote the score and produced the Metroland soundtrack, which is supplemented by some additional tracks appropriate to the period depicted in the film.

Sarah Waters novelist

Sarah Waters is a Welsh novelist. She is best known for her novels set in Victorian society and featuring lesbian protagonists, such as Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith.

<i>Beloved</i> (novel) novel by Toni Morrison

Beloved is a 1987 novel by the American writer Toni Morrison. Set after the American Civil War (1861–65), it is inspired by the story of an African-American slave, Sethe, who escaped slavery in Kentucky late January 1856 by fleeing to Ohio, a free state. Morrison had come across the story "A Visit to the Slave Mother who Killed Her Child" in an 1856 newspaper article published in the American Baptist and reproduced in The Black Book, a miscellaneous compilation of black history and culture that Morrison edited in 1974.

Lesbian pulp fiction

Lesbian pulp fiction is a genre of lesbian literature that refers to any mid-20th century paperback novel or pulp magazine with overtly lesbian themes and content. Lesbian pulp fiction was published in the 1950s and 60s by many of the same paperback publishing houses that other genres of fiction including westerns, romances, and detective fiction. Because very little other literature was available for and about lesbians at this time, quite often these books were the only reference the public had for modeling what lesbians were. Stephanie Foote, from the University of Illinois commented on the importance of lesbian pulp novels to the lesbian identity prior to feminism: "Pulps have been understood as signs of a secret history of readers, and they have been valued because they have been read. The more they are read, the more they are valued, and the more they are read, the closer the relationship between the very act of circulation and reading and the construction of a lesbian community becomes...Characters use the reading of novels as a way to understand that they are not alone."

<i>The Price of Salt</i> novel by Patricia Highsmith

The Price of Salt is a 1952 romance novel by Patricia Highsmith, first published under the pseudonym "Claire Morgan". Highsmith—known as a suspense writer based on her psychological thriller Strangers on a Train—used an alias because she did not want to be tagged as "a lesbian-book writer", and because of the use of her own life references for characters and occurrences in the story. Though Highsmith had many sexual and romantic relationships with women and wrote over 22 novels and numerous short stories, The Price of Salt is her only novel about an unequivocal lesbian relationship and its relatively happy ending was unprecedented in lesbian literature. It is also notable for being the only one of her novels with "a conventional 'happy ending'" and characters who had "more explicit sexual existences".

The Europeans: A sketch is a short novel by Henry James, published in 1878. It is essentially a comedy contrasting the behaviour and attitudes of two visitors from Europe with those of their relatives living in the 'new' world of New England. The novel first appeared as a serial in The Atlantic Monthly for July–October 1878. James made numerous minor revisions for the first book publication.

<i>Young Man with a Horn</i> (film) 1950 film by Michael Curtiz

Young Man with a Horn is a 1950 American musical drama film based on a novel of the same name by Dorothy Baker inspired by the life of Bix Beiderbecke, the jazz cornetist. The movie stars Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, Doris Day, Hoagy Carmichael, and Juano Hernandez, and was directed by Michael Curtiz and produced by Jerry Wald. The screenplay was written by Carl Foreman and Edmund H. North.

<i>Spring Fire</i> book by Marijane Meaker

Spring Fire, is a 1952 paperback novel written by Marijane Meaker, under the pseudonym "Vin Packer". It is the first lesbian paperback novel, and the beginning of the lesbian pulp fiction genre; it also addresses issues of conformity in 1950s American society. The novel tells the story of Susan "Mitch" Mitchell, an awkward, lonely freshman at a Midwestern college who falls in love with Leda, her popular but troubled sorority sister. Published by Gold Medal Books, Spring Fire sold 1.5 million copies through at least three printings.

Wilhelm Meister's Journeyman Years, or the Renunciants, is the fourth novel by German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and the sequel to Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship (1795–96). Though initially conceived during the 1790s, the first edition did not appear until 1821, and the second edition—differing substantially from the first—in 1829.

<i>I Am a Woman</i> book by Ann Bannon

I Am a Woman is a lesbian pulp fiction novel written in 1959 by Ann Bannon. It is the second in a series of pulp fiction novels that eventually came to be known as The Beebo Brinker Chronicles. It was originally published in 1959 by Gold Medal Books, again in 1983 by Naiad Press, and again in 2002 by Cleis Press.

<i>Desert of the Heart</i> book by Jane Rule

Desert of the Heart is a 1964 novel written by Jane Rule. The story was adapted into the 1985 film Desert Hearts, directed by Donna Deitch. The book was originally published in hardback by Macmillan Canada. It was one of the very few novels addressing lesbianism that was published in hardback form; most books during this period with female homosexuality as a topic were considered lesbian pulp fiction until 1969.

<i>The Garden of Eden</i> (1928 film) 1928 film by Lewis Milestone

The Garden of Eden is a 1928 silent film starring Corinne Griffith. It was adapted from Avery Hopwood's short-lived stage production.

<i>The Cardturner</i> book by Louis Sachar

The Cardturner is a novel written by Newbery Medal winner Louis Sachar and published by Delacorte Press in May 2010.

I Am Rembrandt's Daughter is a 2008, young adult historical fiction novel by Lynn Cullen about the famous artist Rembrandt van Rijn's daughter Cornelia van Rijn (1654-1684). In Cullen's version of the story, Cornelia finds that she is not Rembrandt's daughter, but rather that of Nicolaes Bruyningh, the subject of one of Rembrandt's paintings. The novel was selected by YALSA as one of the Best Books for Young Adults in 2008.

<i>Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances</i> book by John Green

Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances is a fix-up novel comprising three separate stories that intertwine with one another. It was released on October 2, 2008 through Speak. The stories are "The Jubilee Express" by Maureen Johnson, "A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle" by John Green, and "The Patron Saint of Pigs" by Lauren Myracle. The book follows three different teenagers as they experience a huge snow storm in the town of Gracetown during the Christmas season.

<i>Jacqueline Susanns Once Is Not Enough</i> (film) 1975 American drama film directed by Guy Green based on the 1973 novel Once Is Not Enough by Jacqueline Susann

Jacqueline Susann's Once Is Not Enough is a 1975 American drama film directed by Guy Green and starring Kirk Douglas, Alexis Smith, David Janssen, George Hamilton, Brenda Vaccaro, Melina Mercouri, and Deborah Raffin. It was produced by Howard W. Koch and written by Julius J. Epstein, based on the 1973 novel Once Is Not Enough by Jacqueline Susann.

<i>The Selection</i> speculative fiction novel for young adults, 2012, first in the Selection series

The Selection is a young adult novel by Kiera Cass first published on April 14, 2012 by HarperCollins. It is the first in a five-book series, followed by The Elite (2013), The One (2014), The Heir (2015) and The Crown. The last two take place twenty years after the events in the first three.

<i>Hector and the Search for Happiness</i> (film) 2014 film by Peter Chelsom

Hector and the Search for Happiness is a 2014 British-German-Canadian comedy-drama film directed by Peter Chelsom and co-written with Tinker Lindsay and Maria von Heland, based on François Lelord's novel of the same name. The film stars Simon Pegg and Rosamund Pike.

The Birds Nest (novel) book by Shirley Jackson

The Bird's Nest is a 1954 novel by Shirley Jackson. The plot concerns a young woman, Elizabeth Richmond, with multiple personality disorder.


  1. Parks, Joy. "Sacred Ground: News and Reviews on Lesbian Writing." In Archived 2007-12-17 at the Wayback Machine July 17, 2002.
  2. Feld, R. "Torchlight to Valhalla (book review)." The New York Times: August 14, 1938.
  3. N.L.R. "Torchlight to Valhalla (book review)." Saturday Review of Literature: August 13, 1938.
  4. 1 2 Unknown author. "Torchlight to Valhalla (book review)." Springfield Republican: August 14, 1938.
  5. Ross, Mary. "Torchlight to Valhalla (book review)." Books. August 28, 1938.