Blogging Jirel of Joiry: “The Dark Land”

“The Dark Land” was the fourth of the Jirel of Joiry stories. It was originally published in the January 1936 issue of Weird Tales.

Of all the Jirel stories I’ve looked at so far, I found this to be the weakest. The story opens with Jirel lying unconscious and near death from a pike wound to the side. As the priest shows up to give her last rites, she disappears.

She finds herself on a platform facing a giant statue of a man. Around his head is a crown of flames. It isn’t long before the subject of the statue shows up. He appears in a swirl of light whose description sounds a lot like the transporter effects from Star Trek TOS.

The man informs her his name is Pav. He’s brought her to his kingdom of Romne. He intends for Jirel to be his queen. It’s her fiery fighting nature that’s drawn his attention.

Jirel, of course, isn’t having any of this idea. She says she’d rather die first. Pav, in spite of the fact he’s kidnapped her, has some semblance of honor. He states he doesn’t want to take her against her will. They end up making a bargain: Jirel will go in search of a weapon to defeat Pav. If successful, she will use the weapon against him. If she fails, she becomes Pav’s bride.

The kingdom of Romne is a strange one which obeys physical laws different from those of our own. Jirel can gaze intently at any location she can see, and she will be taken there. The description of this effect is like the lens of a camera zooming in on something. The concept of a camera is never used, but it’s a sign of Moore’s skill as a writer that she is able to portray this idea.

Jirel visits a plateau on the edge of a great mountain where she encounters an old woman wrapped in a white robe whose dark hair resembles snakes on her shoulders. The woman questions Jirel’s motives in coming there. It turns out she is the former queen of Romne and as such is Jirel’s rival. Jirel is able to convince the woman that she has no desire to marry Pav but only wants to return home.

The woman tells Jirel how to destroy Pav, but Jirel doesn’t agree to follow the woman’s instructions because she suspects there is something the old woman isn’t telling her. Pav shows up before the conversation is finished. He comes striding towards the mountain, a giant of a size on the scale of the mountain, shrinking to the size he was when he first appeared to Jirel by the time he reaches her. The old woman flees, but not before slapping Jirel and telling her to honor the bargain or suffer for it.

Pav insists that Jirel honor her bargain with him and marry her. Jirel agrees, planning to kill him instead.

C. L. Moore

Of course Jirel manages to escape and return home. There’s no swordplay or physical combat in this story. All of the physical fighting takes place before “The Dark Land” opens, when Jirel is injured. While Romne is an odd place, there’s nothing about it to make the land stand out. We’ve seen this sort of thing before in other works. Moore certainly depicts fantasy lands that are more imaginative in some of her earlier works, including the previous Jirel stories. (Reviewed here, here, and here.)

Don’t get me wrong. This was not a bad story. Moore’s poetic and lush prose is every bit as good as it is in her other works. It’s the story itself that’s a bit on the thin side compared to what came before, as well as the next story, “Hellsgarde”. Still, I’d rather read a C. L. Moore story when she wasn’t at the top of her game than read most of what is being pushed on readers by New York publishers these days.

9 thoughts on “Blogging Jirel of Joiry: “The Dark Land”

  1. Matthew

    For a warrior woman, Jirel doesn’t get into many fights. Compare that to Robert E. Howard’s Dark Agnes Red Sonya or Valeria. I don’t what that means but it is interesting (or if it means anything at all.)

    I actually remember liking this one better than Hellsgarde. I think the first Jirel story was the best, but I don’t think there are any really bad Jirel stories.

    1. Keith West Post author

      Good point, but then pretty much all of Howard’s protagonists get into fights.

      The post on Hellesgarde will go live tomorrow (assuming I can get it written today; I should be able to). I agree Black God’s Kiss is the best of the lot, but all of them are good.

      1. Matthew

        Actually, I can’t think of a story by Howard without a fight. Maybe one of his Kull stories?

        I’ll be interested in hearing what you think of Hellesgarde. By the way are you going to review the crossover between Jirel and Northwest Smith?

        1. Keith West Post author

          I think all the Kull stories have some type of fight. It’s been too long since the last time I read them.

          The “Hellsgarde” review will go live at 12:41 CDT tomorrow. I’m planning on reviewing “Quest of the Starstone” but want to finish reviewing the rest of the Northwest Smith stories. I’ll review “Starstone” as the capstone of the reviews. I only tackled two Jirel stories back to back because “Hellsgarde” is in Paula Guran’s Swords Against Darkness anthology that just came out. I’m reading all the stories in the book, including some I’ve read before. I’m going to link to some of my earlier reviews when I post that review. Since I’m reading the Jirel stories in the order they appear in the Planet Stories edition and didn’t want to skip “The Dark Land”, I read two Jirel stories one after the other.

  2. Carrington Dixon

    The Jirel Northwest Smith cross-over may be the weakest of the lot. Moore seems to have thought so; it was the one story omitted from the Gnome Press hardcovers that interleaved to two series (presumably in order to include the cross-over story at the end.)

    At the time P. Schuyler Miller (in a review in Astounding) said much the same thing you did at preferring second-shelf Moore to many another writer’s top shelf.

    1. Keith West Post author

      I suspect you’re right about the crossover being the weakest story in the bunch. It’s been so many years since I read it that I don’t recall anything about it, which tells me it didn’t make much of an impression on me at the time.


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