Born on January 24, 1911, C. L. Moore is one of the favorite writers around these here parts. As I stated a couple of days ago on Robert E. Howard’s birthday, I’m going to be focusing on a work by writers I’ve done multiple birthday posts on rather than trying to come up with something original in a tribute essay. Today’s story is “Jirel Meets Magic”.
Originally published in the July 1935 issue of Weird Tales, “Jirel Meets Magic” is the third story of the Lady of Joiry. It opens with Jirel leading a charge over the drawbridge of a castle, breaking the ranks of the defenders trying to stand against her, and calling for her soldiers to bring her a wizard named Giraud.
Why is Jirel attacking the castle? Who is Giraud? What is Jirel’s reason for wanting to kill him? Who cares? Moore’s writing pulls the reader in, sweeping him along at a breakneck pace. These questions will be answered, but for now all that matters is the heady rush of battle.
It turns out that Giraud had attacked some of her people, and now Jirel is doing what any good leader would do, answer in kind and in spades. They search the castle, and at last in the highest tower they find the body of a murdered page and a set of bloody footprints leading to a window. The implication is the page was murdered in some sort of ritual. Jirel looks through the window and instead of seeing the courtyard below, she’s greeted by a pastoral scene, one at the same level as the window.
We are dealing with a wizard here, remember. Jirel follows Giraud’s footprint through the window and along a lane. Behind isn’t the castle she expected, but a pile of ruins. She came through a window in the remains of a partially standing wall.
Jirel soon comes upon a tree blocking the path. Off to the side, the dryad of the tree is being tortured by a sorceress, a woman named Jarisme. Jirel intervenes, earning the ire of the sorceress. In gratitude, the dying dryad gives Jirel a jewel that will allow her to always find Jarisme and tells Jirel how to use the jewel to destroy Jarisme.
Jirel tracks Jarisme to her castle, where she finds the sorceress in the company of Giraud. Jarisme is clearly the dominant half of that relationship. (Giraud comes across in virtually all of his scenes as a sniveling little mangina.)
Jarisme uses her magic to transport Jirel across this world, but Jirel uses the jewel to track her back down. Jairsme’s castle can move around. There’s a big confrontation when Jirel finally catches up with Jairsme which you can read about; I don’t want to give the whole story away.
I had only read this particular story once, when I was in high school and couldn’t remember any of the details. Upon rereading it, much of the descriptions of the world in which Jirel found herself reminded me of William Morris’s The Wood Beyond the World. The description of the landscape, at least in my mind, was similar, plus there was an evil sorceress. It’s been a couple of years since I read TWBtW, so someone more knowledgeable than me can speak to how likely Morriss influenced Moore. Deuce? Anyone?
There is one sequence near the end, when Jarisme is trying to destroy Jirel by making her relive her past, that we see a reference to “Black God’s Kiss“, but it’s vague enough that if this were your first encounter with Jirel, you wouldn’t be lost. For some reason the Fantasy Masterworks edition has this story preceding “Black God’s Kiss”.
Anyway, there’s still plenty of weird stuff in this one, although it’s not as dark as the two preceding stories in this series. At one point, Jirel is wandering Jarisme’s castle opening doors. Each door leads to another world.
Overall I liked this story, although it had a different tone than its predecessors. Part of the reason for that is that the first two Jirel stories take place in a underground world that’s mostly dark. This one takes place above ground, and while the sky may be a shade of purple, it’s a much lighter, airier place. I think that my be why it reminded me of The Wood Beyond the World. Much of that novel takes place in an outdoor setting. I also seem to recall a snake in that book (although this could be my memory playing tricks on me). There’s a transparent snake that follows Jirel around at one point.
So while “Jirel Meets Magic” is somewhat a departure in tone from “Black God’s Kiss” and “Black God’s Shadow“, it’s still a solid entry into the series.
Finally, a request. When I was in college, back in the late 80s, I saw a book that had pictures of famous science fiction and fantasy authors. I believe it was an autograph book, albeit one that had no autographs. I may have borrowed it from a friend, but it’s been so long that I can’t be sure. There was a photo of C. L. Moore in it. It was the first photo I ever saw of her, and she was sitting on the back steps of a small house. The picture had been taken late in life, for the woman on the steps was completely whiteheaded. I’ve never seen the picture since, even though I do a search online from time to time. I want to say I saw the book shortly after she died. I remember seeing a notice somewhere about that time of her death, although I can’t recall where at this late date.
If anyone is familiar with that picture, please let me know where I can find a copy. I found the one above showing her at the podium online. I know nothing about where that one was taken. I assume it’s actually her; the caption said so, but it could be mislabeled.