Top positive review
DMR digs up eight forgotten favorites
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on April 14, 2020
This is DMR Books' latest collection of classic heroic fantasy tales. The theme of this set is that these are stories that have been rarely reprinted and unfairly forgotten, a mistake DMR corrected. If the reader is old enough to remember the glory days of the late 60's to early 80's when heroic fantasy anthologies could be easily found on the shelves, this will bring back some fond memories. If not, this will be a grand introduction to those crimson and golden days of yore when such timelost treasures as these were available.
The first story is Robert E. Howard's The House of Arabu. Its hero is another of REH's barbarian sellswords, Pyrrhas the Argive, though the tale itself is set in historical Mesopotamia. It relies on and uses Babylonian and Sumerian myth for the story, which is a grand tale of sorcery and daring-do with Howard's usual bleakness under much of it. Pyrrhas, the hero, has aroused the anger of the creatures of Irkalla, the Sumerian realm of the dead. Unable to defy Lilith and the other spirits of darkness he has to seek more occult means. Pyrrhas is a heroic and fierce figure, but even he is seeks aid before the demons of Babylon. Treacherous dancing girls, false friends, inhumanly evil demons and the even more evil sorcerors who command them, Howard hits all his high notes here with fine style. The ending is surprisingly upbeat for one of his stories, but to reveal more would be to ruin it. It is a same that we never got any more stories of Pyrrhas in history's first heroic age.
It is followed by Clark Ashton Smith's Necromancy in Naat. A rare dip into heroic adventure for this master of dark fantasy, this Zothique tale still has CAS's suave and vile necromancers up to their usual wickedness. This one also has a noble hero seeking his slaver-stolen lady love. To his regret he finds her, now a zombie under the control of the necromancer Vacharn and his treacherous sons Vokal and Uldulla. It's all told in Smith's magnificent and ornate prose, and has a happy ending of sorts. This is also apparently one of the few times the story has been reprinted the way CAS wanted it done; according to the book he was forced to edit it before Weird Tales would print it back in the 30s. Edited or not, people who like some darkness with their heroism ought to enjoy this one.
A. Merritt's The Woman of the Woods is next. This story has been printed and reprinted many times, but as with CAS' story this is the first time it's ever been printed as the author wrote it. It's a bit odd, as the story isn't set in the past or on another world, but rather in modern (well, 1920's) France. An American tourist vacationing in the woods of France gets recruited by tree spirits to defend them against a bitter and vengeful local farmer and his sons. They are destroying the local woods, but as we find out the trees are not exactly defenseless. Merritt tell this story with his usual skill and style; he is an undeservedly forgotten master of fantasy and those who read this story will see his genius at work. Unusually for most of these stories, the characterization is very detailed without overpowering the rest of the story. Even the villains get some sympathetic moments. Merritt wrote a great many novels and stories and hope springs eternal that someone will reprint them. Perhaps if this book sells well that will happen.
In the late 70's fantasy great Manly Wade Wellman wrote a series of stories about Kardios, the singing swordsman, last survivor of Atlantis and slayer of monsters and tyrants. DMR recently reprinted nearly all the Kardios tales in their collection Heroes of Atlantis and Lemuria with the exception of the forgotten one included here, The Slaughter of the Gods. In it Kardios has his last adventure against wicked spell-hurlers and monsters before hanging up his sword if not his harp. It makes a fine conclusion to the series for fans like myself.
The next two stories are part of a series by Lin Carter that sadly ended with these. They are the tales of a wandering clan of barbarians seeking a new homeland after their last froze over. In People of the Dragon the tribe's heroes face an oozing pool of hungry darkness that they must slay or be slain by. The Pillars of Hell is another horror from elder days that the tribe must defeat. The idea is that the second story is set a generation after the first one, with the heroes of it now older men unable to do the heroic feats the tribe requires. I wish Carter could have continued it, but at least we have these two stories to read.
Glenn Rahman and Richard L. Tierney's Rune-Sword of Jotunheim is a trip into 'the Northern Thing', with Viking lore and legend being the basis of the tale of a jarl forced to face a foe that even the gods of Asgard must fear. It is different in that he has an ally capable of magic, Alfhild the giantess. Good-guy, or gal, sorcerers are a rarity in heroic fantasy Especially ones that are neither seducers or weaklings who need the hero to save them when swords start swinging. At the same time Alfhild doesn't overshadow Hadding the Jarl. As the editor says, the story is so good we're left wishing that Tierney and Rahman could have done more about these two.
The last tale, Bryce Walton's Princess of Chaos, is technically sword and planet rather than sorcery. But its still a grand tale for all of that, with mutants and half-alien heroes and cruel feline overlords fighting for survival on a Venus that never was but should have been. Its a wildly entertaining and very bizarre story, and a good example of some of the stuff from the Golden Age of the Pulps that almost never gets reprinted and as such feels fresh to modern readers like me who never got to see them back then. You found hundreds of tales like this in Planet Stories, they were its meat and drink, and its good to see something from an otherwise forgotten author.
So there they are, eight magnificent treasures from the past brought back by David Ritzlin and Co. for the enjoyment of modern readers. May they do many more tomes like this.