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Lin Carter’s Imaginary Worlds #1 History of Fantasy

Lin Carter’s Imaginary Worlds #1 History of Fantasy

Imaginary Worlds (Ballantine Books, June 1973). Cover by Gervasio Gallardo

I’m the age Proust was when he died, and Lin Carter books are my Madeleine cake.

The covers transport me to the sunny afternoon garage sales of my teens. Picking up one — they’re tiny compared to today’s paperbacks — and riffling the yellowing pages, and I’m thirteen years old, on a hill-walking holiday in Wales, rummaging in a small town charity shop while the rain rattles the dirty glass window. And later, playing Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D was my edition!) in a stuffy teenage bedroom in a Victorian house where the hundred-year-old window slammed down and nearly took off the DM’s leg as he was smoking a roll-up while perched on the ledge…

And like the D&D games of my mid teens, Lin Carter’s books never quite lived up to the potential of the promised exoticism. In our case, we were teenagers with limited life experience. We did very well, as far as it went, and our DMs were patient and I argued too much. Lin Carter, several times married, a Korean war veteran — the Vietnam sequence that kicks off the Callisto books reads very authentically —  cosmopolitan New Yorker, experienced editor, has less excuse.

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The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: The Spawn of Cthulhu edited by Lin Carter

The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: The Spawn of Cthulhu edited by Lin Carter

The Spawn of Cthulhu edited by Lin Carter-smallThe Spawn of Cthulhu
H. P. Lovecraft and Others
Lin Carter, ed.
Ballantine Books (274 pages, October 1971, $0.95)
Cover by Gervasio Gallardo

Lin Carter edited more than one anthology for the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. Up until now, I’ve not discussed any of them. One reason is that where I am sequentially, there have only been two. The other reason is it’s easier to discuss a single novel than the contents of an anthology.

I’m going to break with that practice for this particular entry in the series. Carter has built a thematic Mythos anthology with The Spawn of Cthulhu. Taking references to the work of other writers referenced in Lovecraft’s short novel “The Whisperer in Darkness,” Carter then proceeds to include either the story referenced or other stories written about the Old Ones mentioned.

I’m going to include some mild spoilers in this post. If that is of concern to you, then let this paragraph serve as your warning. The discussion will start after on the other side of the Read More link just below.

Let’s start with “The Whisperer in Darkness,” shall we? It’s 85 pages long, by far the lengthiest story in the book. The story concerns a folklorist at Arkham University named Wilmarth who is writing a series of newspaper articles debunking sightings of strange bodies seen in swollen rivers and creeks after a particularly bad storm in Vermont. The articles generate some lively discussion in the paper, and are eventually reprinted in Vermont papers.

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The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: Land of Unreason by Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp

The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: Land of Unreason by Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp

Land of UnreasonLand 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.

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The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: The Sorcerer’s Ship by Hannes Bok

The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: The Sorcerer’s Ship by Hannes Bok

The Sorcerer's Ship 001The Sorcerer’s Ship
Hannes Bok
Ballantine, 205 p., December 1969, $0.95
Cover Art by Ray Cruz

First, I’d like to apologize to John and everyone else who reads these posts for taking so long to get this one done. I was on the road quite a bit from the end of May up through the Fourth, but I thought I would be able to get this particular post done quickly. Then things started happening. Car repairs, then house repairs, and then more car repairs. (This has necessitated bank account repairs.) Then last night, one of the wires in my son’s braces snapped loose. If anything else happens, I’m going to snap.

I don’t mean to kvetch. As you can see, I’ve been a bit distracted and apologize for the delay. I’ve already started the next book I’ll read for this series.

Anyway, on to something a little different than what we’ve seen in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series up to this point. Rather than something deep and complex, with complicated writing (The Wood Beyond the World) or bizarre imagery (Lilith) or even not-so-subtle innuendo (The Silver Stallion), The Sorcerer’s Ship is almost a children’s story.

It’s not intended to be, but this is one that might hold a younger person’s interest. There’s certainly nothing in it that most parents would find objectionable for a child capable of reading a book of this length.

Hannes Bok is best remembered for his art, but as Lin Carter discusses in his introduction, Bok was also a more than capable writer. Carter chose this volume and The Golden Stair for inclusion in the BAF line. The Sorcerer’s Ship was originally published by John Campbell (not the world’s easiest sell by any means) in Unknown in December 1942. After Weird Tales, Unknown is arguably the greatest fantasy pulp in the history of the field.

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The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: The Silver Stallion by James Branch Cabell

The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: The Silver Stallion by James Branch Cabell

The Silver StallionThe Silver Stallion
James Branch Cabell
Ballantine, 1969, $0.95
Cover art by Bob Pepper
Internal illustrations by Frank C. Pape

So now we come to one of the better known (some would say infamous) authors in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy line. James Branch Cabell is, to the best of my knowledge, the only author in the lineup who had a book (Jurgen) as the centerpiece of an obscenity trial.

James Branch Cabell was born in Virginia on April 14, 1879. His family was wealthy enough that he could devote his time with genealogical research and writing a complex series of fantasy novels.

These novels are called the Biography of Manuel. They concern Dom Manuel, who rose from being a pig farmer to ruler of the fictional French province of Poictesme. A total scoundrel, after his death, Manuel’s widow Niafer and the saint Horvendile engage in a PR campaign of impressive proportions, recasting him as a faultless savior who will come back to restore Poictesme to holy glory.

But the series doesn’t stop there. Some books deal with Manuel’s descendants. There are 25 books total, written over a period of 23 years. They weren’t written in order of internal chronology and contain a number of references to other works in the series, some subtle and some fairly prominent.

The Silver Stallion opens following the alleged death of Manuel. Jurgen, the son of Coth of the Rocks, claims he saw Manuel taken up into the heavens while riding with Father Death. The Fellowship of the Silver Stallion is the group of Manuel’s closest companions and advisers. They react to news of Manuel’s death in a variety of ways.

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The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: The Wood Beyond the World by William Morris

The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: The Wood Beyond the World by William Morris

The Wood Beyond the World William Morris-smallThe Wood Beyond the World
William Morris
Ballantine Books (237 pages, June 1969, $0.95)
Cover art by Gervasio Gallardo

With this installment in my reviews of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, we come to the first volume by a man who has one of the worst reputations for prose in the series.

I’m talking of course about William Morris. Lin Carter published four of Morris’s works in five volumes; The Well at the World’s End came in at two volumes. Carter appears to have had plans for another four volumes.

In his introduction, Carter makes the claim that Morris invented the modern quest fantasy. Personally, I think that may be stretching things a bit. Morris did invent a number of things, including the Morris chair, but I’m not sure he should get sole credit for modern fantasy.

I must admit I came to this book with some trepidation. After the Adult Fantasy line was canceled, the Newcastle Forgotten Fantasy Library published 24 volumes, with five by Morris. I attempted to read one, the collection Golden Wings and Other Stories, about ten or twelve years ago. I didn’t get very far.

Fortunately, The Wood Beyond the World isn’t a long book. Furthermore, it’s broken up into short chapters, with a line break and a heading before every paragraph or two. Of course with Morris, paragraphs can be more than a page long.

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The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: The Blue Star by Fletcher Pratt

The Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: The Blue Star by Fletcher Pratt

The Blue StarThe Blue Star
Fletcher Pratt
Ballantine Books (242 pages, May 1969, $0.95)
Cover art by Ron Walotsky

Lin Carter chose Fletcher Pratt’s novel The Blue Star to be the inaugural title in Ballantine’s Adult Fantasy series. I’ve found nothing that explicitly says why this novel rather than another, but a remark in his introduction provides a clue.

Prior to this publication, The Blue Star had only been published in an omnibus edition along with Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife and James Blish’s There Shall be no Darkness in 1952. This was 17 years prior to Ballantine reprinting it and two years before The Lord of the Rings was first published. Carter wrote, “I am pleased to have been instrumental in getting this remarkable novel back into print again.”

The novel tells the story of Rodvard Bergelin, who is a clerk in the genealogical offices of the Empire in the capital city of Netznegon. Not given an actual name, the Empire is in decay. Ruled by a Queen whose only heir has been exiled, political intrigue abounds. Rodvard is a member of a revolutionary group known as the Sons of the New Day. They have Bolshevik overtones, but when they eventually gain power, things resemble the French Revolution.

The other protagonist is a young woman who is a witch, Lalette Asterhax. In Pratt’s world, magic is real, but only witches can use it. The only exception is through a gem known as a Blue Star. Not all witches have one, but Lalette does. The power to be a witch is hereditary, passed from mother to daughter. A witch gains her powers when she loses her virginity.

The Sons of the New Day order Rodvard to seduce Lalette. Neither is really interested in the other. Rodvard is taken with a voluptuous young noblewoman who has started hanging around his office. Lalette, on the other hand, is being pursued by an old nobleman, Count Cleudi. In order to get away from him and out from under her mother’s thumb, Lalette reluctantly yields to Rodvard’s advances.

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Lin Carter and the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series

Lin Carter and the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series

Beyond the Fields We KnowMany fantasy fans don’t realize how good they have it these days. Fantasy stories dominate the best seller lists, set box office records, and are some of the highest rated programs on television.

This hasn’t always been the case. In the years following the Second World War, fantasy in popular culture went into a decline. The reasons for this are beyond the scope of this post, primarily because I don’t want to write a doctoral thesis. Once was enough.

What I’d like to address in this and following posts is the resurgence of fantasy in the 1960s and 1970s, specifically fantasy published by Ballantine Books in what became known as the Adult Fantasy Series.

The catalyst that led to the current fantasy boom was J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, of course. Although initially published by Ace in editions not authorized by Tolkien, Ballantine Books ended up as the publisher of the authorized editions. The books were a tremendous success. Readers began clamoring for more fantasy.

Ian and Betty Ballantine followed up The Lord of the Rings with, in addition to some other work by Tolkien, the Gormenghast trilogy by Mervyn Peake, four novels by E. R. Eddison (The Worm Ouroboros, Mistress of Mistresses, A Fish Dinner in Memison, and The Mezentian Gate), A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay, and The Last Unicorn and A Fine and Private Place, the latter two by Peter S. Beagle. Considered precursors to the actual Adult Fantasy series itself, many of these books were later reprinted as part of the series with the unicorn head colophon.

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