Henry Kuttner was one of the most prolific science fiction and fantasy authors who wrote for the pulps in the 1940s, although he didn’t limit himself to those genres. The winter 1944 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories is an example. He has three stories in this issue. The one given top billing on cover is what we’ll look at today. Oddly, the illustration is for a story not listed on the cover, “Venusian Nightmare” by Oscar J. Friend writing as Ford Smith.
The second story of Kuttner’s is “Trophy” as by Scott Morgan. This wasn’t one of Kuttner’s more common pen names. I’ll be looking at it on Futures Past and Present in a day or so. The third story, “Swing Your Lady”, is bylined Kelvin Kent and is part of Kuttner’s Pete Manx series. Haffner Press is going to reprint this one in a collection of Kuttner’s stories under his Kelvin Kent pseudonym, so I’ll hold off on reviewing that one.
Kroo was once a powerful, if minor, Tibetan deity. He enjoyed worship, human sacrifices, the whole nine yards. Now his only follower is a yak that wandered into his temple grounds one night looking for a place to graze. As you might can guess, this isn’t going to be a serious story. Kuttner was known for his dry and often sardonic sense of humor, and it’s on display here.
One day a scientist who has been doing field work in Tibet comes through the village, buys the yak over the protests of the villagers, who consider it to be sacred, and heads down the mountain. The scientist, Dr. Horace Danton, soon learns that he has no ordinary yak when the animal falls off the path and levitates (upside down) over the canyon. Kroo appoints Danton to be his high priest. Whether he wants to be or not. Kroo is an ancient, primitive god who has never been outside his Tibetan village. He wants to see the world, and he wants Danton to accompany him, along with the sacred yak, of course.
The story is set in the early 1940s. Danton has been in the field for two years and isn’t aware that there’s a war on. He convinces Kroo to go to New York with him. (Danton thinks at first that he’s either hallucinating or has been hypnotized.) You can imagine the fun that erupts when Danton, Kroo, and sacred yak walked into a Japanese military post thinking it’s still a civilian town. Now Danton, Kroo, the yak, and a stranded nightclub singer (who has been appointed high priestess) are going to have to stop the Japanese from completing bombs to be used against the American forces in the area.
Kuttner was a versatile author. He could write horror that was downright creepy (“The Graveyard Rats”, anyone?). He could do humor like few could. (Try the Hogben stories or the Gallagher stories.) There’s a serious aspect to the plot. The story was written during WWII, which casts a shadow over the story that’s pretty hard to make light of.
Still, Kuttner manages to infuse a great deal of humor into his tale. The humor isn’t as strong here as in some of his other works, but then some of the humorous stories have grim endings. This one has a happy ending. Kroo is pretty primitive in his outlook, especially when he’s make some bloody demands on his followers. Ultimately, though he’s a somewhat sad and sympathetic figure.
“A God Named Kroo” was reprinted once in the summer 1954 issue of Fantastic Story Magazine. Both stories have illustrations. The illustrations in Thrilling Wonder aren’t credited, and I don’t recognize the artist’s style. There’s nothing really distinctive about it. When the story was reprinted, Virgil Finley did the illustrations. (I have copies of both issues and compared them.)
The story hasn’t been reprinted in over 60 years. That’s unfortunate, because it holds up quite well, even as a period piece. Kuttner’s prose is smooth and flows along at a good pace. “A God Named Kroo” probably won’t ever be considered one of Kuttner’s best works, but it’s still better than much of the fantasy being published in the pulps in the mid-1940s. Hopefully it will end up in an anthology from a small press in the next few years.