Tag Archives: lin carter

The Man Who Loved Mars

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Man Who Loved Mars [Amazon, Abebooks, Bookshop (New), Local Library] by Lin Carter.

Carter The Man Who Loved Mars

This novel by Lin Carter is the first of his “Mysteries of Mars” stories inspired by the planetary romances of Leigh Brackett. He does nice work with the form here, playing up the political sensibility found in Brackett’s Mars yarns (especially the Eric John Stark ones). The anti-imperialist sentiment is probably more bracing for American readers now — or at least it should be — than it was when Carter wrote the story forty years ago. 

The characters are a little flatter than what I would expect from Brackett, but their motives are still interesting, and the planet is nicely realized. I have read complaints about the deus ex machina conclusion, but it was enjoyable as far as I was concerned, and it was almost necessary in order to make this story, told by the first Earth human to rule Martians as a Martian, more significant than the past events to which the narrator constantly alludes.

The science of the business isn’t really any more believable today than Burroughs’ Barsoom was in the 1960s, but for readers more interested in a good story than a historical forecast, this quick read justifies itself well enough.

Beyond the Fields We Know

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Beyond the Fields We Know [Amazon, Abebooks, Local Library] by Lord Dunsany, introduction by Lin Carter.

Dunsany Carter Beyond The Fields We Know

This mass-market paperback is one of Lin Carter’s editions of Lord Dunsany’s fantasies issued by Ballantine in the early 1970s. It contains all of Gods of Pegāna and the better part of Time and the Gods, along with the play King Argimenes and the Unknown Warrior, and a selection of poems and later stories. The Pegāna stories that make up the first part of the book represent one of Dunsany’s chief literary innovations. In Pegāna, he created a cosmology and mythology out of whole cloth to support a narrative universe, setting a precedent emulated by later writers like Tolkien and Lovecraft. Dunsany adopted the narrative styles of myth and high legend, often with surprisingly irreverent effects. In addition to Pegāna’s gods, this collection includes the hilarious later story of “Chu-Bu and Sheemish,” which makes light of divine jealousies. 

The thing that really stands out for me in Dunsany’s works is the language. I had to read this purple piece from “The Sword of Welleran” about four times just for the pleasure of it: “Then night came up, huge and holy, out of waste marshes to the eastwards and low lands and the sea; and the angels that watched over all men through the day closed their eyes and slept, and the angels that watched over all men through the night woke and ruffled their deep blue feathers and stood up and watched.” Also, I thought it was interesting in that same story that the nameless narrator and sometimes eyewitness of the story “I, the dreamer that sit before my fire asleep” — was asleep while telling it. Many of Dunsany’s stories are imbued with the flavor of dream and dream-vision to an extent that had perhaps at that time been rivaled in modern literature only by the fantasies of George MacDonald.

Carter’s introduction is chiefly biographical, while his afterword is sort of philological. Expanding on his claim that Dunsany was the first to base invented proper nouns in literary fantasy on Hebrew models — or more precisely the Anglicized Hebrew names of the KJV Bible — Carter traces the direct and indirect influence of Dunsany through those verbal sounds. (The broadest indirect path goes through Lovecraft.) He instances Clark Ashton Smith, Tolkien, Leiber, and many another author as coiners of names on the pattern laid down by Dunsany.

In editing these books, Carter earned the praise of Ursula LeGuin for saving “us all from a lifetime of pawing through the shelves of used bookstores somewhere behind several dusty cartons between ‘Occult’ and ‘Children’s’ in hopes of finding, perhaps, the battered and half-mythical odd volume of Dunsany” (The Language of the Night, 84). These days, much Dunsany is in print again, but Carter’s mass-market editions are still enchanting, and now themselves worth pawing through the shelves of used bookstores to obtain.

The Adventures of Jules de Grandin

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Adventures of Jules de Grandin [Amazon, Local Library] by Seabury Quinn, introduction by Lin Carter. (See instead: The Complete Tales of Jules de Grandin series.)

Quinn Carter The Adventures of Jules de Grandin

This first volume of the 1970s paperback series reprints seven out of the ninety-three Jules de Grandin stories by Seabury Quinn, including several of the earliest. These began in the 1920s and quickly became a staple of Weird Tales, where they appeared nearly every other month. They were not a serial, however. There is no overarching plot nor development over time of the central characters, who are stock types of an occult investigator and his medical doctor amanuensis. In general, the stories rely on broadly-drawn characters and stereotypes in order to maintain a high tempo and to create a quotidian background for shocking crimes and supernatural menaces.

The sleuth de Grandin himself is an amusingly exaggerated, sword-cane-wielding, mustachioed, gallic scientist of diminutive stature. Most of his adventures take place in the hometown of his host and colleague Doctor Trowbridge, Harrisonville, New Jersey. Being a European in America allows de Grandin to make amusing asides castigating Prohibition, religious bigotry, and other forms of American provincialism. “Today your American courts convict high school-teachers for heresy far less grave than that charged against our Jeanne [d’Arc]. We may yet see the bones of your so estimable Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin exhumed from their graves and publicly burned by your heretic-baiters of this today” (53, Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!).

The narrator Trowbridge maintains a naïve skepticism in the face of exotic events that grows less believable with each passing tale. One of the strengths of the stories is their use of menaces drawn from folk traditions and popular culture (vampires and werewolves, for instance) while allowing that the common lore may be inaccurate in its details. Thus the reader can see where de Grandin’s hypotheses are leading him–while Trowbridge refuses even to consider such fanciful notions–but the tension of the unknown is maintained, along with a sense of the “scientific.”

In those points where de Grandin explains or employs occultism as such, the details tend to be fairly flawed. For example, Trowbridge describes a hexagram (and the book even supplies a diagram) but de Grandin calls it a “pentagram” (182). In another adventure, de Grandin calls elemental spirits “Neutrarians,” a term I hadn’t previously encountered, but which appears to have been coined by Elliot O’Donnell in his Twenty Years Experiences as a Ghost Hunter.

These stories are not great works of literature, and it doesn’t seem that anyone has ever mistaken them for such. They are pulp paragons, and one of their attractions is their great variety, from the piracy-and-cannibalism yarn of “The Isle of Missing Ships” to the parapsychological crime mystery of “The Dead Hand.” Quinn’s de Grandin stories frequently served as the basis for the cover illustrations of the numbers of Weird Tales in which they appeared. Even reading them in this mass market paperback reprint, it is easy to spot the moments in the stories that would be chosen for this honor. They usually featured a naked woman in peril. “The Tenants of Broussac” (scene on page 67) and “The Man Who Cast No Shadow” (153-4) are the two stories in this collection that were realized as cover art in their magazine appearances, and it is easy to note Quinn offering similarly “graphic” climaxes in every tale.

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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