Monday, December 26, 2022

Lin Carter's The Wizard of Lemuria

Lin Carter (1930-1988) was an American science fiction/fantasy writer and editor. As editor of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series in the early 70s he did much to rekindle interest in some of the great fantasy writers whose works had been all but forgotten.

The Wizard of Lemuria, published in 1965, was his first published novel and the first instalment of his Thongor the Barbarian series. It’s very obviously heavily influenced by Robert E. Howard.

This series takes place in a world very reminiscent of Robert E. Howard’s Hyboria. The premise is that the first human civilisations arose half a million years ago on the vanished continent of Lemuria. The world had been dominated by the Dragon Kings, a race of lizard-men, until they were defeated and destroyed by humans. Human civilisations then rose and fell.

Thongor, a barbarian swordsman from the Northland, is employed as a mercenary until he quarrels with his captain and is forced to kill him. Thongor is thrown into a dungeon and escapes by stealing a new invention cooked up by a master alchemist. It is an air boat constructed of a metal that is lighter than air and it is propelled by rotors powered by springs.

Thongor’s escape seems destined to end in disaster. His air boat is attacked by gigantic flying lizards and after it crashes he is pursued by even more gigantic and more terrifying ground-dwelling lizards. It would have been the end of the line for Thongor had he not been rescued by an elderly sorcerer, Sharajsha. Sharajsa has need of Thongor’s fighting skills. The Dragon Kings were vanquished thousand of years earlier but the Dragon Wizards still survive, patiently awaiting their chance to wreak vengeance and destruction on the human race. Only a magic sword can defeat them. Only Sharajsa can forge that sword. And only a mighty warrior like Thongor can wield that sword. The sword can only be forged in one place and it will be a perilous journey to reach the sacred mountain.

Thongor and Sharajsa get into various scrapes before they can complete their mission, Thongor finds a valiant comrade-in-arms and of course along the way he has time to rescue a beautiful slave girl who is in reality a beautiful princess.

Carnivorous flying lizards are just one of the hazards Thongor encounters. The vampire flowers are even nastier.

The chief villains are the mysterious Dragon Wizards but there are plenty of subsidiary villains to worry about as well - over-ambitious princes and unscrupulous druids all of whom take an intense dislike to Thongor.

This is clearly a Robert E. Howard imitation, with Thongor being a less interesting version of Conan. It’s pretty much stock-standard sword-and-sorcery. Lin Carter was just not quite in the same league as Howard. His prose lacks the astonishing vitality and dynamism of Howard’s work. The story is fairly conventional.

That sounds like I’m dismissing this book as sub-standard but that would be unfair. Carter understood the sword-and-sorcery genre extremely well. He has assembled all the right ingredients - a world of magic and monsters, a brave noble barbarian hero, sorcerers both good and evil, a beautiful princess and lots and lots of action. And he’s blended these ingredients with a reasonable amount of skill. He also understood the vital importance of pacing - the action doesn’t let up for a moment. The action scenes are vivid and exciting.

The Wizard of Lemuria might be second-tier sword-and-sorcery compared to the works of Robert E. Howard, Catherine L. Moore and Fritz Leiber but it’s good solid entertaining second-tier sword-and-sorcery. If you’ve read everything written by the giants of sword-and-sorcery and you still want more then this novel will provide reasonable entertainment. Recommended.

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