Tag Archives: lin carter

Thongor and the Wizard of Lemuria

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Thongor and the Wizard of Lemuria [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Lin Carter.

Thongor and the Wizard of Lemuria by Lin Carter

I read The Wizard of Lemuria in its “revised and expanded” second edition, in which author Lin Carter added back passages originally cut from his first published novel. He mentions in his foreword that although it was his first book published, it was his seventh novel written, and I dread to contemplate the six rejected ones! Although “expanded,” it is still a short book I was able to read in three or four sittings. The copy I have is falling apart at the spine, and I thought I should read it while the pages were still in their proper sequence.

This sword-and-sorcery yarn is an undemanding read with no original ideas detectable in it whatsoever. Protagonist Thongor is a Conan clone: a black-maned Northlander who “in the years of his wanderings and wars as a vagabond, hired assassin, thief, and now mercenary, … had learned every trick of swordplay with every type of weapon” (13). He is evidently destined for a throne as well. He mistrusts wizards, but finds himself allied to one for the central quest of the story, which involves a threat to the entire universe typical of superhero comic book conflict escalation. The setting is the ancient continent of Lemuria, with a prefaced map in Carter’s own hand that is nevertheless entirely unhelpful in illustrating the geography relevant to the adventures in the text.

Every chapter has an epigram from an imagined Lemurian text, and most of these are in verse. There is also some poetry integrated into the text, as Thongor is fond of “roar[ing] out the harsh staves of his Valkarthan war song” (75) as he does battle. These ditties are surprisingly tolerable.

The pacing and structure of the book owe more to Edgar Rice Burroughs than to Robert E. Howard. It is episodic with cliffhangers often featuring capture and/or unconsciousness as transitional devices. Thongor acquires a companion named Karm Karvus (cf. Tars Tarkas of Barsoom). Malevolent priesthoods supply multiple villains, although Carter terms these “druids.” At the end of the book, Thongor pledges himself to the political cause of the princess Sumia, who is herself smitten with him and not ambitious for worldly power.

The Jeff Jones cover art for this 1969 edition is better than the book’s contents, and does not actually depict a scene from the novel. There are evidently another five Thongor books, but on the evidence of this one I will not be seeking them out.

By the Light of the Green Star

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews By the Light of the Green Star by Lin Carter.

In the third Green Star installment, Lin Carter seems to have hit his groove. He maintains two parallel plot lines, alternating between them with a series of cliffhangers. The pacing is fast, with short chapters like those of the previous volumes. The end was not quite as much a cliffhanger as the previous book, but it was a big downer, heavy on dramatic irony and inconclusive. I liked Roy Krenkel’s illustrations better than the ones by Luis Dominguez in the prior book.

This leg of the story really showed its Barsoomian literary genealogy, introducing both chthonic and aerial sub-races of the Green Star world’s humanoids. Reading the glossary appendix that recapped the heroes and monsters of the first three books, it occurred to me that the world of the Green Star would make an excellent milieu for a tabletop fantasy role-playing game: distinctive, varied, and easily appreciated as a setting for heroic adventure. [via]

Discoveries in Fantasy

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Discoveries in Fantasy, edited by Lin Carter.

Discoveries in Fantasy is an anthology volume of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. It brings together shorter works by four pre-Tolkien English fantasists selected and introduced by Lin Carter, mostly with the avowed intention of later publishing a full book of the work of each. All four of the writers were obscure in 1972 when this book was published, and they have remained so. Much as I like it, there was probably little help supplied by the cover art by Peter La Vasseur, which shows a roc flying through an Orientalist fantasy landscape with a naked woman in its talons. (This picture actually illustrates one of the stories in the book, “The Bird with the Golden Beak” by Donald Corley.)

The first two stories are sinophile yarns by Ernest Bramah. Carter is wrong that Bramah’s Chinese lore is entirely invented. Fo-hi, for example, was genuinely the legendary Chinese emperor responsible for formulating the trigrams. And on page 44 Bramah cleverly quotes the Tao Te Ching out of context. But any and all of this lore might well have come out of the OUP Sacred Books of the East, and probably did, so that Carter discounting the rumor of Bramah’s travels to China is still reasonable. “The Vision of Yin” is actually rather replete with such references, while “The Dragon of Chang Tao” starts out sort of strangely European in its regard for dragons, but eventually reaches a more sophisticated and “Chinese” relationship to them.

The third and fourth stories are drawn from the book The Twilight of the Gods by Richard Garnett. I had never heard of this book, which evidently contains most if not all of its author’s fantasy output. The title is misleading, since it is not concerned with a northern Götterdämmerung, but rather with the eclipse of pagan antiquity by Christianity. These were terrific, and Garnett’s book went onto my wishlist straight away. He is quite careful about his historical contexts, interpolating supernatural events to explain enigmas of the ancient world, such as Nonnus of Panopolis authoring both a thirty-book Dionysian saga and a paraphrase of the Gospel of John.

The two stories by Donald Corley are lapidary tales with a greater amount of pathos than the frequently arch fantasies from the other contributors. Carter relates that Corley was championed by Cabell, but I found Corley’s tone to be the least Cabellian of all the writers here. I did enjoy these and I would read more of Corley’s work if I came across it.

The last and longest story in the book is “The Miniature” by Eden Phillpotts–an author neglected by American audiences, but remembered in England, according to Carter. This one did not satisfy me. It was a resume of human history from the perspective of the Olympian deities. Some of the later points were already counter to the historical narrative in 1972, and the conclusion definitely did not hold up well as a prognosis for human society to this twenty-first century reader. The colloquies among the gods were rather flat, and I would far prefer to return to Giordano Bruno’s Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast for this sort of “council of the gods” story than seek out any of the others reportedly written by Phillpotts along similar lines. [via]

When the Green Star Calls

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews When the Green Star Calls by Lin Carter.

Lin Carter When the Green Star Calls

I found this second of Lin Carter’s “Green Star” books more enjoyable than the first in all respects but one. The characters were more interesting, including the protagonist, who this time did not have the conveniently preserved soul-less body of a mighty-thewed hero to inhabit. Instead, he took on the life of an orphaned savage. There were elements of ancient civilizations and super-science which helped leaven the sword-and-planet a bit. As before, it is a straightforward action story where the interstellar travel is of a sort of old-fashioned psychic variety. I especially enjoyed an apparently gratuitous trip to Earth’s moon, where the narrator witnessed an enigmatic artifact.

The one feature I didn’t so much like was the cliff-hanger ending. There is, however, an editorial epilogue, where Carter applies the traditional documentary conceit of the genre, and explains that the next volume will pick up directly from this arbitrary break in the narrative. I was, in fact, slightly consoled.

I was very unimpressed by Luis Dominguez’s interior illustrations to this edition, although his cover art is sort of fun. [via]

Under the Green Star

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Under the Green Star by Lin Carter.

Lin Carter Under the Green Star

Under the Green Star is the first of what came to be several sword and planet novels in its setting by Lin Carter. It was written in conscious homage to the Barsoom books of Edgar Rice Burroughs, but, as Carter notes in his afterword “On the Burroughs Tradition,” it is not at all Burroughs’ prose style. It is also quite a different setting. The world of the Green Star is vast and arboreal, with elfin peoples dwelling in cities in the branches of great trees, where giant bugs and lizards represent the chief environmental hazards.

The occultism of this story is more pronounced than the accidental interplanetary projection of Burrough’s John Carter. The hero in this case is a victim of juvenile polio who studies arcane lore in an effort to be able to project his consciousness from his crippled body. In a bit of inadvertant hilarity, the author chose Eckankar as the mysterious ancient discipline that brings success to this occult quest, evidently taking propaganda from the then-young New Age sect of Paul Twitchell as a more neutral exposition of astral magic.

I did genuinely enjoy the story, and I would class it with Burroughs as quality sword and planet fantasy with a sort of baseline naivete that enhances its charm. [via]

The King in Yellow

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The King in Yellow by Thom Ryng:

Thom Ryng's The King in Yellow

This stage play text was written to fulfill a literary hoax, one that in fact helped to inspire the notorious Necronomicon of Lovecraft. In the weird fiction of Robert W. Chambers, The King in Yellow was a play with a degenerative effect on the morals and sanity of its readers. Thom Ryng is not the first to flesh out the text of the play; in his introduction he suggests that he is perhaps the eighth, and he refers specifically to two earlier attempts: one by Lin Carter and one by James Blish. (I’ve read both.) In the first edition of the Ryng text, the conceit was that the text had been recovered from a 19th-century French edition. In this softbound reprint, editorial and authorial matter confesses its actual late-20th-century composition in the distant wake of Chambers’ fiction. It has been produced on stage at least once, if we are to believe the current edition.

Materially, the book is a sturdy softcover volume with a generous font size. I was a little disappointed that the cover had the false Yellow Sign originally designed by artist Kevin Ross and corrupted in the editorial process for the Chaosium role-playing game Call of Cthulhu. (Chambers’ original Yellow Sign was probably the “inverted torch” insignia that appeared on the binding of early editions of Chambers’ story collection The King in Yellow.)

There is a vein of socio-political commentary that is disturbingly prescient (the author implies that it could have been causative), considering that the book was written in the 1990s. Readers are also furnished with a Hasturian incantation to achieve magical invisibility.

When I read this book, the experience was attended with appropriate inter-textual synchronicities. The Oedipus eyes of Thales echoed my recent philosophical reading in Nietzsche criticism (to wit, The Shortest Shadow and Foucault’s Lectures on the Will to Know). Also relating to that reading, but opening onto a perpetual return to a secret place, is the play’s portrayal of Truth as a phantom who is martyred.

Overall, I was suitably impressed, instructed, and infected by Ryng’s deposition from the ether of this dread volume. [via]


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