Linwood Vrooman Carter (1930-1988) was one of the heroes of my youth. In the decades since his death his reputation has wallowed in the aftermath of the Last Great Sword & Sorcery Boom. He helped start it, with the Conan books he and L. Sprague de Camp brought back into print, edited, and in many cases wrote, as with the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series of works he edited and thus brought back into print. (Not adult fantasy as in sex, but adult fantasy as in great classic works that weren’t kid stuff). Books by Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith and James Branch Cabell; title I never would’ve read in a million years otherwise, but books which shaped the tastes of many another fantasy enthusiast, myself among them.
Despite the vast number of books written in the Sword & Sorcery genre in the past 80 years, when I found myself again turning an eye toward them, one of the first people I sought out was Carter. I distinctly remember the day, age 13, when I bought his Enchantress of World’s End off the spin rack at the Wal-Mart in Harrison, Ark.
The bare-bosomed, bright red beauty on the cover caught my eye, as did the unpronounceable names (Northern YamaYamaLand, Dzimdazoul’s Deep – not to mention the Ethical Triumvirs of Chx!), and of course the cast: Ganelon Silvermane, muscle-clad hero with the mind of a child, his master the Illusionist of Nerelon, face always hidden behind veil of purple mist, and the delightful, freckled, long-legged and sexy Xarda, Knightrix of Jemmerdy.
Had I known this work, like much of Carter’s oeuvre, was derivative – in this case of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth books, among others – I might have gone on to read them then, though my access and resources were limited, but I would not have held the imitation against Carter. Did I not do the same myself, every day, scribbling longhand in notebooks as fast as I could write?
He has been critiqued many times before for hewing too closely to his sources, but he was quite open in so doing and in his admiration of them.
I am glad his books remain worth a read, as I have just found out, and while yes there is but one Robert E. Howard, one Edgar Rice Burroughs, one Clark Ashton Smith, there was but one Lin Carter as well, and I am forever grateful that he lived, and wrote.
[Originally posted at Dragons and Swords]