“The Flames: A Fantasy” is a novella written by Olaf Stapledon, and published in 1947. While not one of Stapledon’s better known works, it isn’t a reworking of ideas which he had done before, unlike some of his other lesser known works. Like all of Stapledon’s works, it is not standard speculative fiction, as Olaf Stapledon always brings something different to the genre with his background in psychology and philosophy.
The novella has three sections, the first is just a one page “Introductory Note” in which the narrator, Thos, discusses the nature of his relationship with Cass, and the circumstance in which he received a letter from Cass. This section serves to setup the rest of the story. As is typical for Stapledon’s stories, the premise established in this “Introductory Note” is that the story is actually true.
The second section is titled “The Letter” and this is the meat of the story and the largest section. As if written by the character Cass, this letter discusses the possibility of alien intelligent entities called “The Flames” who require very high temperatures in order to be able to fully function. These beings originated on the Sun, but through solar activity their essence was distributed to other bodies. However, they have only been able to be active on Earth due to man creating fire, and most effectively during the wars of humans.
There are two key questions coming out from this section, the first is regarding the sanity of Cass. If Cass is sane, then these entities must exist, but if he is insane then this may be the figment of his mind. The second question comes under the assumption that the Flames actually exist, and then the question is “what is the nature of these beings?