Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Carter’s Thongor of Valkarth, a True Floater - Review by S.E.

Thongor and the Wizard of Lemuria (Thongor, #1)Thongor and the Wizard of Lemuria by Lin Carter
S.E. rating: 2 of 5 stars

Carter’s Thongor of Valkarth, a True Floater
Lin Carter’s Thongor is a clonan, a “clone” of REH’s 1930’s barbarian “Conan.” Thongor has all the expected traits: a broadsword, hails from northern cold climates, disdains civilization, and wears a loincloth. In addition to Thongor, other notable clonans emerging ~1970 include John Jakes‘s Brak the Barbarian and Gardner F. Fox’s Kothar of the Magic Sword.

Lemuria, and Weird Fiction History Let us highlight the titular location: Lemuria is akin to Atlantis, being a lost continent mired in myth and history. It is not entirely fictional. In fact, many scientists in the 1800’s including Ernst Haeckel (famous Darwin supporter) claimed the Lemuria was a sunken continent off of Africa/India and hypothesized it was the origin of man’s evolution (rather than Africa). In short, Carter chose a land that was rich in history, but did not capitalize on this much. There are a few call outs to Hyperborea (ancient northern Europe essentially, another mystical land with “real” history ….Hyperborea being the key one that inspired weird fiction originals: Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith). H.P. Lovecraft was a pen pal with Howard and Smith, and championed his own flavor of horror which influenced REH’s adventures—Lin Carter had several Lovecraft call-outs as well. However, Carter fails to tap the potential of Lemuria’s rich history.

Editions, Covers, and Expectations: This reviews the 1969 second edition (Thongor and the Wizard of Lemuria), which expands the original 1965 (The Wizard of Lemuria) with an author’s foreword in which he reveals that the 2nd edition has a few thousand extra words—this is interesting since the novel is near novella length and still seems short. Paying tribute to a master (REH) is an honorable gesture; and this is admittedly Lin Carter’s first published work, so we do not expect his best. What should we expect? Let’s start with the covers. The original 1965 cover by Gray Morrow was more representative, featuring a dragon-like pterodactyl eating a spaceship. The 1969 edition has an arguably more attractive cover by Jeff Jones, which looks more Frazetta-like and promises more serious, dark fantasy than it does cheezy, sci-fi. Thongor is arguably a mix of sci-fi and fantasy, so either approach could work; upon reading, it is obvious we have been duped.
The wizard of Lemuria cover by Gray MorrowThe wizard of Lemuria cover by Jeff Jones
The Wizard of Lemuria by Lin Carter Thongor and the Wizard of Lemuria (Thongor, #1) by Lin Carter

Floaters and ADHD Style: Moments of decent storytelling are interrupted by ambiguous self-parody: an air ship is quickly introduced and is unfortunately called a "floater", which brings to mind a type of low-density, egested waste. Since our uncivilized barbarian chances upon said floater, a unique prototype among all Lemuria, it is outright amazing that he can master the controls and fly away. But he does, and this nonsense is ever present and consistent. Our naked, loin-clothed hero is called “Thong”-or... I assume he is wearing a thong (he is characterized as being naked), but half way through, we suddenly learn Thongor is actually wearing “high boots” to protect himself from vile serpents. Wild disconnects are characteristic of the book.

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a real disorder aptly named; it also suits the style of this book. One could easily argue Lin Carter had ADHD, and got a thrill of introducing, then instantly discarding, random goals/enemies. To wit: random wizard needs randomly found warrior and his randomly high-jacked floater to... guess what? …save the world in two weeks. Without this random confluence of events, the wizard would have not prepared to save it. WTH? Fortunate coincidence on every page attempts to mop up plot holes too big too fix; unlikely encounters bring shallow danger and instant reprieves. The faux drama is so over-the-top that each encounter deflates the previous. Hopelessly lost characters and magical weapons somehow always resurface…like low-density/high-fat poop (a.k.a. floaters).

Cinematic Clonans: Carter’s Thongor reads like poor fan fiction more than it does a unique tribute to the Sword & Sorcery genre. There are parallels between the written Conan-Clonan development and the cinematic evolution. Those of us who lived through the 1980’s were generally (a) impressed with the cinematic adaption of Conan The Barbarian (1982, with Arnold Schwarzenegger), and less impressed with the movie-clonans that followed that were shallow rip-offs. The worst of the worst of these was Deathstalker There is a stunningly hilarious and through review of the Deathstalker series on cinemassacre.com from 2010. It dissects the absurdity of the series, even going as far as to quantify the ratio of fight scenes to women's breasts shown per movie. These movies are terrible, like most clones. What is sad is that many of these had great covers by artist Boris Vallejo, which promised to deliver serious Sword & Sorcery. Great marketing I suppose, but reminiscent of this Thongor book disappointing delivery wrapped in a great oil painting.

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