Elak of Atlantis
$12.95, trade paperback, 224 pgs.
This is the second and final tale of Prince Raynor that Kuttner wrote. I don’t think it’s quite up to the standards of “Cursed be the City”, which I discussed earlier in the week. But it’s still a good yarn.
The story opens with Raynor and his Nubian servant Eblik coming upon a dying archer in the forest. He’s part of a group of refugees they, along with the warrior maid Delphia, had put together after the close of the previous story. Prince Raynor’s horse had gone lame the previous day, and he and Eblik had fallen behind the group. The archer is the only survivor except for Delphia, who has been kidnapped. Raynor and Eblik set out in pursuit.
While waiting for the moon to rise, they are approached in the forest by an old man in a robe. From his description, he sounds a lot like Gandalf, and his name, Ghiar, isn’t that far off. Only this story predates The Lord of the Rings by a number of years.
Ghiar tells them Delphia has been kidnapped by Baron Malric and gives them a talisman by which they can recover the girl. There’s a lot of talk about the zodiac, but it’s a different zodiac from the one today. The signs are different, and there are only seven of them.
Raynor and Eblik go to Malric’s castle and in the commotion of rescuing Delphia, Ghiar shows up and takes off with her. Seems he needs her for a sacrifice in order to renew his youth. Things get nicely weird when they arrive at Ghiar’s castle, which is on an island surrounded by black flowers. Of course they’re the kind that induce sleep. It’s only the thought of Eblik in danger that enables Raynor to overcome their effects.
Once inside there are several fights and eventually they overcome Ghiar. The manner is a little unconventional in that both magic and strength are used. Ghiar’s motivation and actions don’t always make a lot of sense unless you remember his early speech about signs of the zodiac and which ones are in ascendance.
I liked the weird elements in this one, especially the battle with the serpent inside Ghiar’s castle and the consequences of that. The black flowers were a nice touch, if not particularly original. Both of these elements reminded me of Robert E. Howard (which is probably why I liked them). It’s an established fact that Kuttner was influenced by Howard, and many of his early stories show the influence Howard as well as other writers in their contents. Still, if you’re going to copy another writer, always copy from the best.
While the influence of Howard is definitely here, Kuttner by this time was too good of a writer to simply cut and paste another author’s style. Kuttner shows a greater depth in the interactions between Raynor and Eblik than in “Cursed be the City”. Early in the story Raynor calls him a fool and orders him about, something that would be entirely appropriate for a prince to do to a servant. Still, when Eblik needs his aid, Raynor manages to find the motivation to save him where he wasn’t finding the motivation to save himself.
|Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore
The Raynor stories were both published in Strange Stories in 1939, which implies, given the delays between composition that were common in the pulps in those days, that the first of the two had to have been written in 1938. Kuttner was beginning to transition at this time to science fiction, where he would ultimately write in collaboration with his wife C. L. Moore some of the great classics of the field such as “Mimsy Were the Borogoves”, “The Twonky”, “The Proud Robot”, and “Vintage Season.” Just to name a few. We’ll look at some of these in an in-depth post I’m working on.
It’s easy, and perhaps oversimplifying things, to say that Kuttner wrote no more Prince Raynor stories because the market folded. Strange Stories only ran for 13 issues between 1939 and 1941. But Weird Tales was still going strong. I’ve seen somewhere, and I don’t recall where or I would say, that Dorothy McIlwraith didn’t like the Elak stories and wouldn’t buy any when she became editor of WT. If I’m recalling correctly, the author of that statement was offering it as speculation.
I have a different idea. Kuttner was trying to establish a professional writing career. Weird Tales had a reputation, much deserved, for being slow in paying. And not always paying that well. There were a lot more science fiction markets than there were fantasy. Kuttner didn’t restrict himself to just fantasy and science fiction, but also wrote weird menace and mysteries, and he continued to write fantasy for a number of years, especially for Unknown. However, he had his greatest success in science fiction. It seems to me, and this is just speculation, that Kuttner began to focus on writing more science fiction because he could make a better living at it. The timing of the two heroic fantasy series ending coincides with an increase in Kuttner’s science fiction output and makes the possibility one that should be considered.
“The Citadel of Darkness” ends with the three companions, Raynor, Eblik, and Delphia, riding off together, one supposes to have more adventures. It’s a shame Kuttner never recorded them.