Saturday, December 16, 2006

Ceaselessly Into the Past


This will be a bit of autobiographical rambling. Just a warning. Anyone who's been reading the past couple of months worth of posts here might think that my reading matter consists primarily of Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs and related authors. That's right and wrong. I have an obsessive personality. Whatever I'm interested in tends to completely absorb all my thoughts. Right at the moment it's sword & sorcery, so that means I'm talking about Conan and Tarzan, Elric and Kane, and all the other S&S heroes. It might even seem to someone who doesn't know me that I've been a life long reader of this material. This too is right and wrong. I started reading sword & sorcery when I was 12 and I stopped when I was 19. I wouldn't touch another fantasy book for almost twenty years, returning to the fold when I was 38.

Today I've been thinking about how that happened. It involves the Lord of the Rings, Jimmy Buffet, John D. MacDonald, a guy with a big ax, and a leper. I discovered Sword & Sorcery through comic books. That's been covered in an earlier post. (See Crom Bless Us, Everyone) Once I found the genre, I collected all the S&S I could find, reading Michael Moorcock, Lin Carter, John Jakes, Alan Burt Akers, Lin Carter, Fritz Lieber, Gardner Fox, and other writers I can't think of right now. At the top was Robert E. Howard, and to some degree Edgar Rice Burroughs, though ERB's work can't strictly be called sword & sorcery. It covers much of the same territory however, particularly his books about Mars.

Now keep in mind, this wasn't the only thing I was reading during this period. I was reading tons of more traditional Science Fiction. Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert, Ray Bradbury, Larry Niven, and so on. I was also reading Doc Savage novels hand over fist. I also managed to read my way through a surprising amount of the classics. I loved Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. I read Alexander Dumas, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jack London, and many others. I just plain loved to read.

But the one book I could not seem to get through was The Lord of the Rings. I tried the Fellowship of the Ring at age 15, but after a steady diet of Conan and John Carter of Mars, I found it slow going. I tried again the following year, made it a little farther, and gave up again about the time the Hobbits took a shortcut to mushrooms. Just wasn't holding my attention.

Jump to 1979. I am a junior in high school. My mother belonged to the Doubleday book Club. You know the kind. Sends out a catalog every month and usually a book of the month. Knowing how much I loved to read, mom kept an eye out for any books I might like. She spotted a trilogy that sounded like it might be my cup of tea, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever. Covenant is the leper I mentioned earlier. The descriptions in the catalog did indeed sound promising. A contemporary man, thrust into a world of magical creatures and warring armies. Sounded kind of like John Carter. I asked mom to order the books.

As it turned out, the books owed far more to J.R.R. Tolkien that to ERB. They too were a bit slow, but the character of Covenant, a man afflicted with leprosy who steadfastly refused to believe in magic or the land into which he had been transported, held my attention. The books ran about 400 pages each, not far short of the Lord of the Rings, and when I finished them, I decided that I would once more attempt Tolkien's epic saga.

Jeez, this is turning into a long post. Let's break here, and pick up with part two a little later.

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