Happy Birthday, Mr. Merritt

Way too many cool authors were born in January. In fact, there are so many it’s hard to keep track at times (my abject apologies to the shade of Jack London). I would advise any prospective parents wanting to produce an author-child of exceptional talents to strive mightily in the months of April and May.

Luckily for The Cimmerian, James Maliszewski reminded us all that today is the birthday of Abraham Merritt. Using his Grognardia blog as a bully pulpit, Maliszewski once again preached the gospel of A. Merritt.

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The Ship of Ishtar: A Trifecta of Reviews

Last Tuesday, Ryan Harvey, one of Black Gate’s elite crew of bloggers, reviewed the new editi0n of A. Merritt’s The Ship of Ishtar recently published by Paizo. Saturday night, Morgan Holmes posted his own take on the Paizo edition over at the REHupa blog. Today, James Maliszewski, warlord of Grognardia, weighed in on Merritt’s classic novel as well. Obviously, this phenomenon had reached some sort of critical mass and warranted a look by yours truly.

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Merritt’s The Ship of Ishtar From Planet Stories (Paizo)

ishtar-paizo-finalI enjoyed the rare and original fantasy of [The Ship of Ishtar], and have kept it longer than I should otherwise, for the sake of re-reading certain passages that were highly poetic and imaginative. Merritt has an authentic magic, as well as an inexhaustible imagination.

Clark Ashton Smith

Klarkash-Ton, as usual, was right on the money. As one who recognized a kindred genius and spirit in Robert E. Howard long before the majority of his peers, CAS knew magic, poetry and imagination when he beheld it.

My copy of the Paizo edition of The Ship of Ishtar came in the other day. Despite the fact that I own three other imprints of this fantasy classic, I’d been anticipating the delivery of this edition for months. Erik Mona and his crack team of pulp-hounds at Planet Stories have outdone themselves on this project. Going back to the 1949 Borden “Memorial Edition,” they have issued the most complete text in sixty years, included all of the classic Virgil Finlay illustrations from two different editions (something never done before) and allowed Merritt (and CAS and REH and HPL) fan, Tim Powers, to write the introduction.

Powers, a noted author in his own right, was an inspired choice. The man gets Merritt. His introduction, entitled, “On These Strange Seas In This Strange World,” is one of the best analyses and tributes devoted to The Ship of Ishtar that I have read. Here’s one passage:

This novel, like the Ship of Ishtar itself, is timeless — the opposite of timely — and in fact it may not be possible to write a book like this in these present times. Somehow, in the early 1920s, Merritt managed to write a genuinely pagan book, one that simply didn’t deal with, but assumed, the pre-Christian fatalist dualism, with its particular loyalties and indifferent cruelties. A modern writer would not let Kenton deal with slaves and conquered crews the way he does, and would be constantly aware of Freud and political correctness. A modern writer, that is to say, would not be able to unselfconsciously let his story play out naturally, with no placatory gestures toward modern sensibilities.

Exactly. When The Ship of Ishtar hit the stands in 1924 between the covers of Argosy All-Story magazine, nothing like it had ever seen print in American popular culture. Despite being drenched in blood, sex and the supernatural, the American public took to the novel like Islam to the desert. Merrit’s ground-breaking work would eventually go through twenty-plus printings and sell millions before the end of the twentieth century. It would seem almost certain that Robert E. Howard, a long-time and faithful reader of Argosy, was one of those millions of readers.

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Maliszewski and “The Books That Founded D&D”


James Maliszewski, the proprietor of Grognardia and a Friend of The Cimmerian, has posted an article on The Escapist website. It is called “The Books That Founded D&D” and I found it quite interesting. I thought it worth some commentary.

Mr. Maliszewski starts his essay noting the various reasons why J.R.R. Tolkien should be dismissed as major influence upon the role-playing game that Gygax and Arneson developed. Most of the evidence used to back this up is cited from Gygax’s own writings. The fact that these writings date from before and after the threatened lawsuit by Tolkien Enterprises means very little, in my view.

Tolkien deeply influenced Dungeons and Dragons. That is my humble opinion and I stand by it. The Elves as portrayed in D&D would be far different if JRRT had never written his novel, The Lord of the Rings. The same for D&D dwarves. Double ditto for “orcs,” which species (with that particular appellation) would never exist, but for Tollers. Triple ditto for the “halflings” in the game (whom I always considered ridiculous, in game terms). All of that, however, is fodder for another blog entry. Now, let’s get to all the stuff that James Maliszkewski and I do agree on (more or less)…

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REH and JRRT Books on the Horizon

legend_of_sigurd_gudrunWe live in halcyon days, my friends. Sure, there’s a global “economic downturn” grinding all and sundry ‘neath its leaden wheels and there is a possible influenza pandemic looming (or “lowering,” as REH might say), but we aficionados of the works of Robert E. Howard and John Ronald Reuel Tolkien have much to celebrate in the many coming months, gloom n’ doom notwithstanding.

Firstly, there is The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun by JRRT, which is being released on May 5th. The dearly departed Steve Tompkins gave us (or, at least, myself) a much-appreciated heads-up on this project. At 384 pages, this volume outstrips the recent The Children of Hurin in pagination, though only time will tell whether it does the same in its quality of story-telling. Considering Tolkien’s deep investment in the mythic ‘Nordic’ North (far deeper than Howard’s, I would argue), I have high and lofty hopes for this publication. The dark and bloody Volsungasaga, forged in the depths of the Germanic Dark Ages, was always a well-spring of inspiration for Tollers.

Coming in October from the Library of America is the Peter Straub-edited, American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to the Pulps. Nestled like a blasphemous, obsidian jewel amongst tales from Robert W. Chambers and Clark Ashton Smith (and, of course, Poe) is Robert E. Howard’s seminal Lovecraftian yarn, “The Black Stone.” Inclusion of a Howard story in a Library of America publication is always a provocation for (at least minor) rejoicing. I have Bill Thom (of Howard Works and Coming Attractions fame) to thank for this welcome news.

REHupan Frank Coffman has his much-anticipated Robert E. Howard: Selected Poems volume (in cooperation with the Robert E. Howard Foundation) slated for a release to coincide with the 2009 Howard Days. Considering the “poetry” theme for this year’s commemoration, Coffman’s is a most fitting book, one which complements the recently published A Word From the Outer Dark (Project Pride), along with The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard. A banner year for REH poetry fanatics. (Continue reading this post)