L. (Lyon) Sprague de Camp was born on November 27, 1907 and died on November 6, 2000.
De Camp won his only Hugo Award in 1997 for his non-fiction book Time & Chance: An Autobiography. He also won the International Fantasy Award for the non-fiction book Lands Beyond, written with Willy Ley and won the British Fantasy Award for The Fallible Fiend. In 1996 he was recognized with the first Sidewise Award for Lifetime Achievement and in 2003 received a Southeastern SF Life Achievement Award. He was named a Grand Master of Fantasy with a Gandalf Award in 1976 and received a Forry Award in 1977. In 1979 SFWA named him a Grand Master and in 1984 he received a Life Achievement World Fantasy Award. H was inducted into the First Fantasy Hall of Fame in 1989 and, along with his wife Catherine Crook de Camp, earned a Gallun Award in 1993. SFRA presented him with a Pilgrim Award for lifetime contribution to SF and F scholarship in 1998. De Camp was the author Guest of Honor at Tricon, the 24th World Science Fiction Convention held in Cleveland in 1966.
“The Figurine” was first published in the February 1977 issue of Fantastic, edited by Ted White. De Camp included it in his 1980 collection The Purple Pterodactyls, which was translated into German in 1982 by Thomas Schlück. The story has not, otherwise, seen print.
A trip to Guatemala in “The Figurine” results in Willy Newbury returning home with a small statue of a god that he places in his office. His children begin to joke that the god is ruining the television reception and they jokingly give the god a sacrifice of some plastic flowers, which clears it up. Newbury doesn’t really believe that the statue has magical powers, but he brings it along on a business trip, where he finds himself in the middle of a riot. He jokingly offers to sacrifice a chicken to the statuette in return for escaping unharmed. When he manages to get away from the rioters and gets home, he suddenly finds that things that were working previously aren’t anymore, and the figurine is no longer fixing things for plastic flowers.
One of the many freedoms of Sword and Sorcery, it seems to me, is that it enables the adoption of a world that allows the writer to comment on just about anything on which one would want. One of Robert E. Howard’s purposes in the construction of his own Hyboria was to create a conglomerate of cultures, no matter how anachronistic their juxtapositions, so that his hero Conan might have any kind of adventure that Howard might think up. Whereas for previous tales, Howard perhaps had to construct different heroes for different historical epochs (Bran Mak Morn for the Celtic Picts, Solomon Kane for the sixteenth century, Kull for Atlantis), in the Hyborian Age Conan might be a thief, a soldier, a pirate, and ultimately a king, his adventures all the while providing Howard with powerful commentary on “civilization.”
So, too, writers after Howard have utilized this purpose. Dave Sim, through his creation of Cerebus the Aardvark, begins by commenting on the Sword and Sorcery genre itself (as well as the mainstream comic books of Sim’s time) and then goes on to explore High Society, Church & State, marriage – and this last, in Jaka’s Story, is as far as my reading has taken me, but I understand that Sim is so far reaching in his exploration of topics that in a much later volume he even explores the life and works of Ernest Hemingway through Cerebus taking on the position of Hemingway’s personal secretary!
Terry Pratchett uses the Sword and Sorcery milieu to ingenious satirical effect, cribbing directly (I believe) from Fritz Leiber in order to forecast to his readers, in the very first pages of the very first Discworld novel, just what tone and material his readers may expect. Pratchett’s initial perspective characters, soon abandoned, are Bravd and the Weasel (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, obviously). I quote the following description in order to give an example of Pratchett’s satirical treatment of Sword and Sorcery and to underscore, specifically, Pratchett’s debt to Leiber. For more humor, one might want to pick up this book and enjoy the way that these characters talk to each other – it’s impressively Leiberesque.
Land of Unreason
Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp
Ballantine Books (240 pages, January 1970, $0.95)
Cover art by Donna Violetti
Lin Carter ended the inaugural year of the BAF series with a reprint of a novel from the pulp Unknown, Hannes Bok’s The Sorcerer’s Ship. His first selection for the series’ first full calendar year was another tale from Unknown (the October 1941 issue), a collaboration between Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp.
Land of Unreason followed the first two Harold Shea stories among their collaborations. In this story, they introduce a new character, a young diplomat named Fred Barber, who is taking a medical rest in the Irish country-side.
One night, he notices his hostess leaving some milk out for the fairies, so that her infant son won’t be taken and a changeling left in his place. Fred is contemplating his bottle of single malt to help him get to sleep and decides he’s rather have the milk since that has been his proven cure for insomnia all his life. Also, milk is strictly rationed, and he doesn’t want to see it wasted. He drinks most of it, leaving just a little, into which he pours a generous amount of his whiskey.
Fred then goes to bed and quickly drops off to sleep. The fairy who finds the whiskey drinks it and gets plastered. Since he didn’t get any milk, he goes into the house to take the baby and leave a changeling. Only in his inebriated state, he takes Fred rather than the infant sleeping in the next room.