Wednesday, October 10, 2018

RE-BLOGGING: From There To Here

How It All Started For Me

It was the summer of 1969. Very much like the one described in the song by Bryan Adams.
I quit the rock and roll band I’d been playing with since high school, went to work with my Dad, and had just finished reading The Lord of the Rings; a year earlier, while still in high school, I’d read The Hobbit. Now, after completing my magical journey through Middle-earth, I was totally hooked. I had found a liking — no, a craving for Heroic and Epic Fantasy. 

Not long after that, I discovered the Ballantine Books Adult Fantasy Series, wonderfully edited and championed by Lin Carter. Novels by Mervyn Peake, Lord Dunsany, E.R. Eddison, David Lindsay, William Morris, James Branch Cabell, Poul Anderson, and others fanned the flames of my passion. To say I was addicted would be a gross understatement. No, I had found novels that had changed my life and would continue to do so for the next 48 years!

Then one day, while browsing through a used book store on State Street and Congress in downtown Chicago, I came across three more novels that would further alter my life. The Tritonian Ring, by L. Sprague de Camp, The Swords of Lankhmar, by Fritz Leiber, and an anthology of short-stories by Lin Carter, Beyond the Gates of Dream. What was this new and exciting genre of fantasy fiction I had discovered? Sword and sorcery, of course! I was not only caught like an unwary Hyrkanian soldier, I was taken captive — axe, mace, and broadsword. I finished reading Leiber’s and de Camp’s novels in less than a week, and then I opened the “Gates of Dream” to Carter’s collection of stories. 

One story, in particular, hit me like a blow from a Cimmerian war hammer — The Hand of Nergal. Yes, the first Conan story I ever read was not even pure Howard, but a pastiche completed after his death by Carter. At the time, I didn’t know too much about Howard and his work. Sure, I had read some things about the big guy with the volcanic blue eyes in some articles and reviews in the old Castle of Frankenstein magazine. But I didn’t know anyone who had ever read Conan, or knew anyone who had even read sword and sorcery fiction, for that matter. Everyone I knew was familiar with Tolkien . . . but not with Howard. So I set out on my quest to find anything and everything I could that Howard had written. Going to major bookstores like Kroch’s and Brentano’s, and B. Dalton’s revealed even more of Howard’s treasures. Conan the Adventurer was the first all-Howard book I delved into. “The People of the Black Circle” was the first “pure-Howard” Conan story I ever read, and I was magically transported back to the Hyborian Age through the purple-edged pages of those grand old Lancer paperbacks with the amazing Frank Frazetta covers. After that, I discovered other Howard titles: the excellent Wolfshead, the grim and atmospheric King Kull, the even grimmer but no less grand adventures of Solomon Kane, and the dreamy Burroughs-inspired world of Almuric. And even though music and playing in rock and roll bands would lure me back time and again for the next 14 or 15 years, I was forever hooked on heroic fantasy and sword & sorcery fiction.

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