Thursday, July 7, 2022

Heroes of Atlantis & Lemuria

Heroes of Atlantis & Lemuria is a collection of sword & sorcery tales from DMR Books. There are five stories by Manly Wade Wellman, all dating from the late 1970s. There are three stories from the late 1930s by Frederick Arnold Kummer Jr. And there’s a single 1941 story by Leigh Brackett. The unifying thread is that all these stories are in some way concerned with the lost worlds of Atlantis or Lemuria.

The Manly Wade Wellman stories features as their hero Kardios, the sole survivor of the disaster that engulfed Atlantis (a disaster he may have unwittingly brought about). He is now a solitary wandering adventurer who is very good at slaying monsters. When you slay a monster the people who were being victimised by the said monster are usually pretty grateful so Kardios manages to survive pretty well.

Straggler from Atlantis introduces the character, washed up on a beach in a strange land. He has been adrift since the destruction of Atlantis. When he wakes up he finds himself face-to-face with a giant. Not just a really big guy, but an actual giant, twice as tall as a man. And there are lots more giants where this one came from.

The giants turn out to be reasonably good-natured. And they need Kardios’s help. There is something that needs to be done and it cannot be done by a giant. It involves a monster. Or a god. Fith could be either. In the world of these 1970s Manly Wade Wellman stories gods and monsters seem to be interchangeable. In any case, whatever Fith is, the giants are really sick of him. That’s why they want Kardios’s help. This is a competent but fairly routine sword & sorcery tale.

The Dweller in the Temple is more interesting. Kardios is just wandering down the road minding his own business when he gets waylaid by a bunch of guys. They don’t want to rob him. They want to crown him as their king. Kardios figures that being a king might be a pretty good gig. Apart from being offered the usual selection of fine wines and good food and fancy clothes he is also to be permitted to choose a girl from among a very luscious assortment presented for his inspection. In fact he can choose two girls if he likes. Kardios is quite happy with the idea of being presented by a lovely female bed partner but his choice strikes his advisers as a trifle eccentric. He chooses a shy servant girl. It proves to be a good choice. Yola is a really sweet girl and once they return to the bedroom she turns out not to be shy after all.

Kardios finds that being a king isn’t hard work and is actually extremely pleasant. Especially with Yola to share his bed.

Of course all this really is too good to be true. There has to be a catch, and there is. Kardios’s monster-slaying skills will be needed after all, and Wellman gives us a fairly cleverly conceived monster in this tale. A pretty good story.

In The Guest from Dzinganji Kardios finds that the road he has been travelling leads nowhere. It ends in a mighty chasm. There is no way across. At least that’s how it seems at first. There is however a way to cross the chasm but Kardios is warned that across the chasm lies Flaal, a city from which no-one was ever returned. Many are lured by the promise of treasure. Kardios is not interested in treasure but he makes the perilous crossing anyway.

Flaal is ruled by Dzinganji. Kardios is informed that nobody ever has to work in Flaal. Every luxury imaginable is provided. All you have to do is to agree to perform one very small service, and you have to agree to submit. Kardios certainly has no intention of doing any such thing. Even the fabulously beautiful Tanda cannot persuade him.

The revelation of the secret behind Dzinganji, and of course there is a secret, is reasonably satisfying. This is a story that gleefully mixes science fiction, fantasy, horror and adventure. A good story.

The Seeker in the Fortress pits Kardios against a powerful wizard. The wizard Tromboll controls the surrounding countryside from his impregnable fortress. The local lord Feothro has grown tired of the wizard’s depredations and is besieging his fortress, but Tromboll is holding Feothro’s fiancée Yann hostage. It seems to be a standoff, until Kardios offers to rescue Yann. It won’t be easy. Tromboll is protected by human guards, monsters and magical powers. A reasonably entertaining story.

The Edge of the World takes Kardios to a city perched on a mountainside. Beyond the mountain there is nothing. It is the edge of the world. At least that’s what the priests tell the people. The queen makes Kardios welcome. Very welcome indeed. But there is a price to be paid for sharing the queen’s bed, and Kardios isn’t keen on paying it. He escapes with the help of a slave girl, but the only way to left to run is up the mountain and that means falling off the edge of the world.

It has to be said that these five Manly Wade Wellman stories have nothing to do with Atlantis. Kardios is just your stock-standard wandering adventurer. But they’re lively and fairly inventive, there’s action and a touch of romance, there are monsters and beautiful but evil queens, there are sinister sorcerers and murderous gods. They’re very decent sword & sorcery tales.

We now move on to the stories by Frederick Arnold Kummer Jr. Adventure in Lemuria appeared in Fantastic Adventures in 1939. Khor is a Cretan and he’s a long way from home when he helps out a young man who’s been set upon by toughs. The young man, Jador, has had his throne usurped by his malevolent half-sister, the witch-queen Lalath. Khor agrees to infiltrate himself into the citadel to open the gate for Jador’s rebel troops. Unfortunately Khor catches the eye of Queen Lalath. She invites Khor to share her bed. He refuses, on account of the fact that he’s getting seriously evil vibes from her, and Lalath takes his rejection rather badly.

So at a time when he should be opening the gate for Jador Khor finds himself about to be sacrificed to the evil god Molech. It’s an entertaining story.

A sequel of sorts, Intrigue in Lemuria, appeared in Fantastic Adventures in 1939. Khor the Wanderer is no longer an ancient Cretan. He is now a 20th century American named Kirk the Wanderer. But by some means which are never explained Kirk seems to be able to transport himself into the world of ancient Lemuria.

In a tavern he encounters a wizard who shows him a vision in a wineglass, a vision of an extraordinarily lovely girl. The next thing he knows he’s waking up in the bedroom of this very girl, but she’s the queen and she’s in a lot of trouble and so is he. He’s been set up to put the queen in a compromising situation.

Volcano Slaves of Mu is great fun with slaves toiling away inside a volcano which is a kind of ancient power generation plant.

The three Kummer stories are energetic and imaginative and generally highly enjoyable stuff. The action is inventive, the villains come up with some truly dastardly plots to dispose of the hero, there’s as much sexiness as you expect in the late 30s.

This brings us to the final tale in the collection, Leigh Brackett’s Lord of the Earthquake, from 1941. Two archaeologists are using a submarine to search for the fabled lost continent of Mu. They find an ancient pyramid and then they’re swept into a kind of cosmic hole. When they emerge the pyramid is no longer submerged beneath the sea.

You’d expect the Leigh Brackett story to be the strongest in the collection and you’d be right. She doesn’t just give us time travel, she gives us time as something that goes in cycles and yet it doesn’t go in cycles, it repeats itself but it doesn’t, you can’t change the past but then again maybe you can. There’s a hero who is flawed but maybe he can still change, there are sacrifices that cannot be avoided, but perhaps they can. Maybe it’s possible to learn to live, and learn to love.

And there’s a genuinely interesting villain with complex motivations. He’s a god. At least he’s pretty sure he’s a god. And since he’s a god he can save the land of Mu. He’s insane and he’s evil but his insanity and his evil are not unreasonable given the circumstances.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable collection of sword-and-sorcery tales. They’re very good second-tier stuff, not in the Robert E. Howard league but still plenty of fun. The Leigh Brackett story on the other hand is absolutely superb and is more than sufficient justification for buying this book.

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