Archive for the 'Fantasy fiction' category

Lord Dunsany's Pegana

Jul 21 2009 Published by under Fantasy fiction, Lovecraft

A bit over a month ago, I decided to read a few of Lord Dunsany's plays after reading Lovecraft's glowing review of them in Supernatural Horror in Literature.  The plays are wonderfully eerie and capture the spirit of ancient myths and folktales, in which people sin against the Gods, and the Gods, in a pissy mood, bring divine justice against the sinners.

Dunsany's most influential works relating to ancient myths are his Pegana1 stories, within which a complete fictional pantheon and its associated mythology are constructed.  Below is the cover of the Chaosium edition, which collects all of Dunsany's tales of Pegana:

pegana

The Complete Pegana combines three of Dunsany's collections: The Gods of Pegana (1905), Time and the Gods (1906), and three later stories grouped as Beyond the Fields We Know.

In a word, these tales are magnificent!  There have been plenty of authors who have created their own fictional mythos, but I can't think of any other who so perfectly captures the spirit of ancient myths and bends that spirit to his own purposes.

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Fletcher Pratt's The Well of the Unicorn

Jul 07 2009 Published by under Fantasy fiction

Though I'm quite well read these days with respect to pulp fiction of the early 1900s, I'm much less familiar with those genres which followed, namely science fiction and fantasy.  Occasionally, however, my literary wanderings cross my path with something of the later genres, and I take a look.

Last month, I read The Well of the Unicorn (1948), by Fletcher Pratt (1897-1956).  A colorful image of the 3rd Ballantyne edition is pictured below, though I read a more recent edition:

wellofunicorn

The novel is definitely a groundbreaking work: Pratt developed an entire fictional fantasy world and history, and it appeared before Tolkien published The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955), though not before The Hobbit (1937).   But is it as memorable?

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Bertram Mitford's The King's Assegai

Jun 13 2009 Published by under Adventure fiction, Fantasy fiction

Those who have been reading this blog for a while know that I've become a really big fan of Bertram Mitford (1855-1914).  His novels, written in the late 1800s, are on the surface adventure novels which draw on his experiences living and working in South Africa.  Valancourt Books has been valiantly reprinting many of Mitford's novels, and I've discussed three of them here: The Weird of Deadly Hollow, Renshaw Fanning's Quest, and The Sign of the Spider.  All are excellent novels which possess much more depth of character and meaning than one would expect.  The Sign of the Spider, with its anti-hero protagonist and descent into darkness, both literal and metaphorical, is now one of my favorite novels.

Already some time ago, I picked up the first book in Mitford's tetralogy of Zulu novels, The King's Assegai, also published by Valancourt:

kingsassegaixl

Curiously, I waited a long time before actually reading it, unlike Mitford's other books.  I suspect I had a little dread about reading a Westerner's fictional interpretation of "African savages", or perhaps I simply didn't think I could get into a novel about African warriors.  (I had a discussion to this effect on an earlier Mitford thread.)  In any case, I shouldn't have been worried -- though I didn't enjoy it as much as I did Mitford's other work, The King's Assegai is an excellent adventure story which gives a very human (and not stereotypical) view of tribal Africa.

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Henry Kuttner's Elak of Atlantis

Nov 03 2008 Published by under Fantasy fiction, Robert E. Howard

I'm a complete sucker for sword-and-sorcery fantasy, and actually I've written a significant amount of it for my own amusement.  Of course, the true master, and really the originator of the genre, is Robert E. Howard, whose Conan stories are both incredibly fun to read and surprisingly eloquent.

After Howard's unfortunate suicide in 1936, readers still hungered for strong fantasy characters, and many incredible authors stepped up to fill the void.  One of those was the masterful Henry Kuttner, who danced easily between fantasy, horror and science fiction.  He wrote a quartet of stories about Elak of Atlantis, which were recently reprinted:

Below, I give a brief summary of the Elak stories, and some comparison to the Conan works of REH.

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Dennis Wheatley's They Found Atlantis

Aug 11 2008 Published by under Fantasy fiction, Horror

I've discussed a few of Dennis Wheatley's books in past posts. Wheatley was a prolific author from the 1930s through the 1980s (though his most famous works were written from the '30s to the '50s), and he could rightly be considered the Stephen King of his time. Unfortunately, most of his works are out of print, with the exception of some inexpensive editions produced by Wordsworth Mystery & Supernatural. I've started foraging for his used books online, and managed to find an inexpensive first edition of his adventure thriller with the provocative title They Found Atlantis (1936). Though not his best work, it was an entertaining read and gives me an excuse to delve into some of the history of the Atlantis story and some of the Atlantis craze of the twentieth century. I'll include some minor spoilers of the story, so don't read any further if you want to discover Wheatley's Atlantis for yourself! Otherwise, follow me below the fold...

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H. Rider Haggard's She

Jul 29 2008 Published by under Adventure fiction, Fantasy fiction

Before Indiana Jones, there was Allan Quatermain, elephant hunter and adventurer/explorer of Africa. Quatermain was the creation of H. Ridger Haggard (1856-1925), and was featured in the novels King Solomon's Mines and Allan Quatermain. Haggard's work was informed by his own experiences working for the British government in one of their South African colonies, and his works are still in print to this day, though not as widely read as they once were.

I recently finished reading Haggard's other famous adventure/romance, She (1887), in preparation for another lengthy survey of weird fiction, and I thought I'd share some thoughts on the novel.

The "She" of the title refers to a legendary white queen of an isolated African tribe, though her full title is, "She who must be obeyed" (she's also named Ayesha, but that's not nearly as impressive sounding). The novel tells the tale of a trio of adventurers who risk life and limb to travel in search of her.

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Richard Marsh's The Magnetic Girl

Jul 07 2008 Published by under Fantasy fiction

I thought I'd do a post on one more book by Richard Marsh that I've read, The Magnetic Girl (1903), currently only available on Google books.

The Magnetic Girl is significantly different than the other books by Marsh that I've discussed previously (The Beetle, The Joss, The Goddess, Curios). Although it is still undeniably a 'weird tale', with an unexplained supernatural element about it, it is not a horror story or a mystery: nobody is killed and no crimes are committed. The Magnetic Girl is, in fact, Marsh's take on a comedic novel, with just a smidgen of social commentary thrown in for good measure. I give some details below the fold...

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Edgar Rice Burroughs' At the Earth's Core and Pellucidar

Jun 26 2008 Published by under Fantasy fiction

Regardless of what you think of Edgar Rice Burroughs' writing, he himself was no slacker! Burroughs wrote well over fifty novels in his lifetime, including 26 featuring Tarzan, and used incredibly imaginative, now iconic, settings as backdrops. I've briefly discussed his classic 'Barsoom' (John Carter of Mars) series in a previous post. This week I finished the first two books of another series, 'Pellucidar':

"At the Earth's Core" (1914) and "Pellucidar" (1923) concern the adventures of David Innes and his friend, scientist Abner Perry, as they explore a prehistoric world that lies within a hollow Earth. I give a description of the story and some observations below the fold.

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Robert E. Howard's Almuric

May 23 2008 Published by under Fantasy fiction, Robert E. Howard

Hot on the heels of a discussion of various 'planetary romances' set on Mars, I turned to Robert E. Howard's own take on said romances: the tale of the savage world of Almuric:

I have to admit, Howard fan that I am, that I was completely unaware of this novel before the Planet Stories edition, especially embarrassing because it is one of Howard's very few novels!

The book is a mixture of the planetary romance of Burroughs and the barbarian saga which was pure Howard. It is perhaps one of Howard's least successful adventure stories, but seems in many ways to be the 'ultimate' Robert E. Howard story, as it combines many of his themes (and pet peeves) into one fantasy world...

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Get your ass to Mars!

May 13 2008 Published by under Fantasy fiction

(Title courtesy of the movie Total Recall.)

The planet Mars has always been a source of fascination (as is its sister planet Venus, but that's another post). As we have seen (here and here), in reality Mars can be quite an interesting place, but it has also served as an exotic locale for fantasy and science fiction adventures. Recently I started stumbling across various classic adventure stories set on the red planet, and after a couple of weeks of marathon reading, I thought I would do a post about them!

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