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.