This one is a gem. And take a look at that cover. Interestingly, it promises cover-to-cover hand-to-hand combat, but while there is plenty of sword-swinging in this Sword-and-Sorcery anthology, the emphasis is on the sorcery. Perhaps that theme is hinted at in the title Warlocks and Warriors, giving precedence to the Warlocks. The supernatural takes center stage in this collection, from sorcerers, to the undead, from demi-gods to druids.
L. Sprague de Camp compiled this one. Unlike his sidekick and serial anthologizer, Lin Carter, he did not take the opportunity to include one of his own stories. I rather regret that, but the talent lineup herein is compensation enough. Heavy hitters. Rock stars. Pick your analogy, it’s probably apt. I’m not going to hide my verdict until the end. If you don’t already have a copy of this on your shelves, snag one at the first opportunity.
You’d expect a big name to lead off the anthology. You’d be wrong. A writer by the name of Ray Capella gets the honors. I’m not familiar with him beyond his story here, Turutal. Capella apparently wrote a series of stories set in Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age, featuring his own hero, Arquel. I rather doubt you could get away with that now, without a license from the owners of the Conan franchise. The 1960s were another time. Anyhow, this is a solid, Howardesque story, featuring a band of mercenaries and Arquel facing off against a Stygian sorcerer and a tribe of undead pygmies. The sorcerer is sufficiently potent. He’s not what you might expect, he’s more of a direct action spell-slinger, a D&D style magic user rather than the sort of thaumaturge who requires hours of chanting and a blood sacrifice. He presents enough of a threat and an obstacle to keep the action going. It was nice to find an enjoyable story from an unfamiliar name.
De Camp did not include himself in the anthology, but he made room for Lin Carter. Carter’s story is admittedly styled after the stories of Lord Dunsany. And you’ll get a chance later on to make a direct comparison. The Gods of Niom Parma is actually a charming, well-written fable featuring a squabbling pantheon of gods, and the results of one their number taking on human form to settle the argument. No sword swinging at all, in this one. It is instead a whimsical tale of the supernatural experiencing the natural. I liked it.
The action picks up dramatically in the next of the stories, one of REH’s Solomon Kane stories, The Hills of the Dead. One of my favorites. Here you have our stalwart hero facing off against waves of vampires, aided by his blood brother, the shaman/witch doctor N’Longa. It is always a pleasure to revisit that bloody-handed, dour puritan. I doubt I need say any more on the subject.
Henry Kuttner’s Elak is featured in the next story, Thunder in the Dawn. This is a novella, that keeps the action going from the first scene all the way through. Kuttner is sometimes regarded as rather a lightweight in the field. It is true that the prose flags at times, or lacks the scintillation of, say, Vance, and the combination of Druids, Vikings, and Atlantis might seem a trifle odd. But it works. The prose might flag but the story never does. This is adventure fiction after all, and Kuttner offers it in spades. There is magic galore, moving the plot along, threatening and rescuing our heroes. We have a Druid’s magic squared off against that of an Elf. We have some sort of pan-dimensional death god, scrying, magical gales at sea, lighting bolts and fireballs. (Tell me someone, is Dalan the archetype of the D&D Druid?) The point is, the story is rip-roaring fun.
Somewhat unfortunately for Kuttner, he is followed by Fritz Leiber. I mean to speak no ill of Kuttner’s talent. Most anyone’s prose would be diminished in comparison with Leiber’s. Thieve’s House is one of the iconic tales of Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser. I’ve always been partial to the stories set in the city of Lankhmar, and this one never disappoints. It is somewhat of a ghost story, if you swap out ghosts for animate skeletons. Leiber keeps the tension high, the dialog witty, and the prose sparkling. But, you know all that.
Back to back classics. C.L. Moore (Henry Kuttner’s wife, if you didn’t already know) is next with the first Jirel of Joiry story, Black God’s Kiss. To appreciate this story, it helps to put yourself in the same frame of mind as you would to read an H.P. Lovecraft tale. The work is rather a mood piece, with impressions and psychic revelations taking the place of visual description. Nothing is fully explained. Much of the yarn feels dreamlike, unreal. If you want to know exactly what it is that the extra-dimensional tunnel beneath Jirel’s castle actually leads to, who those beings are who exist in that space, and how they interact with our world, then you’re on your own. Moore isn’t interested in those questions. Much of the story exists in what isn’t written. I suppose there is some Post-graduate paper to be written on the psychology of Jirel of Joiry, but frankly, I wouldn’t want to read it. I’d rather read the story, and let myself be moved about by the weird imagery.
Remember the Lin Carter story? Next up is Lord Dunsany’s whimsical fable Chu-Bu and Sheemish. Consider it a sort of palate cleanser, an amusing sorbet before getting on to a meatier story. It is a brief, charmingly written tale of ineffectual, petty gods. I’ve always liked this one.
The great ones keep rolling in this. I mentioned it is a gem of an anthology, didn’t I? Next up is Clark Ashton Smith with one of his Zothique stories, The Master of the Crabs. If you are fond of Vance’s Dying Earth stories, you’ll feel right at home here with this story told by an apprentice wizard of his journey accompanying his master across the sea in pursuit of a rival wizard. Smith, Vance, and Leiber are the three great stylists of the genre. This story is a bit more straightforward than many of Smith’s other stories, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t written with his characteristic elegance and expert use of the archaic and sesquipedalian. A good story. One of those in which the Sorcerers are also the Swordsmen.
H.G. Wells is rather the odd man out in this collection. He isn’t known for S&S, and you may quibble as to whether or not The Valley of the Spiders qualifies as such. I’d hazard that it does, as swords do appear and the threat faced does seem to have some sort of supernatural origin. Everything about the story is kept deliberately vague, from the three main characters, who go nameless, to the location of the setting. It is, I think, mostly a brief character study, considering bravery, class, and status. It is fine, but probably the weakest of the stories.
Last comes Roger Zelazny. His Dilvish the Damned is one of those S&S characters, like Elric, who is both a swordsman and a sorcerer, which fits in with the apparent theme of the anthology. The Bells of Shoredan follows Dilvish on a quest to summon a supernatural army to come to the aid of a besieged city (think the scrubbing bubbles from the film version of Return of the King.) Dilvish faces supernatural perils, and fights them both with his own demonic magic and with the sword. I liked the story, but I found the mannered style a bit off-putting, with the “and then did he” phrasing. But it works, once you allow yourself to grow accustomed to it.
An excellent anthology. It would be hard to top this one.
Shifting to another topic, the cover artist of my novel Under Strange Suns is selling t-shirts based on the art.
They look pretty good, don’t you think? If you liked the book, or just want a cool looking shirt, contact him at his website and pick one up.