Friday, April 11, 2008

Lost Kingdoms

In James Branch Cable's book, Beyond Life, there is a library of books that were never written. This is a concept that has always fascinated me. Such a library would contain the plays Shakespeare never finished and the novels that Mark Twain never got around to. It would also contain fictional books like Abdul Alhazred's The Necronomicon and the Complete Works of David Copperfield.
I thought of this last night when I was perusing the latest acquisition to my collection of the works of the late fantasy writer and editor Lin Carter. Kingdoms of Sorcery was one of a pair of anthologies that Carter edited for Doubleday books in the mid 1970s. The companion volume, which I already owned, was Realms of Wizardry. In the front of both books are lists of Carter's other books and both those lists contain books that never existed. I wonder if Carter prepared the lists himself and included titles for books he had in the works, because he would have presumably been the only person with advanced knowledge of the titles.
The titles for two of the books are rather intriguing. The first, Robert E. Howard and the Rise of Sword & Sorcery, looks to have been a volume in the tradition of Lin Carter's trio of books about the fantasy genre. These are Tolkein: A Look Behind the Lord of the Rings, Lovecraft: A look Behind his Cthulhu Mythos, and Imaginary Worlds. Carter was ahead of his time with all three of these books, since Tolkien was one of the first studies of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Lovecraft, one of the first in depth books about H.P. Lovecraft's work. Imaginary Worlds is one of the earliest and most comprehensive histories of the fantasy genre, and really deserves to be reprinted. Presumably, the Robert E. Howard book would have been much the same sort of thing.

The other title, The Stones of Mnar, is a bit more interesting. Mnar is a city mentioned in H.P. Lovecraft's The Doom That Came to Sarnath. The star stones of Mnar figure in Lovecraft pastiches by both Carter and August Derleth. I wondered if perhaps Lin was considering a Lovecraftian novel or a collection of his Lovecraft inspired short stories. As often happens, my subconscious continued to worry at that long after I'd put the book aside and I suddenly recalled something Robert M. Price had said in one of his Call of Cthulhu anthologies. Unfortunately I remembered this after I had gone to bed and was forced to get up, turn on the lights and go digging through my books for my copy of The Xothic Legend Cycle, which reprints most of Lin Carter's Cthulhu mythos stories. Actually I guess it's rather fitting to be digging through musty tomes late at night for answers to a Cthulhu related question.)
Sure enough, in the introduction, Price mentions that Carter had tried to interest Arkham House in publishing a 'novel' made up of five interconnected Cthulhu mythos tales, much as they had done with August Derleth's Trail of Cthulhu. Arkham house declined. According to Price, Carter's title for the proposed book was The Terror Out of Time. However, since the stones of Mnar play a role in one of the five stories, The Winfield Inheritance, I wonder if Stones of Mnar was a possible alternate title.
The third non-existent book is the most easily explained. It was Jungle Maid of Callisto. This was an early title from an early draft of the novel that would eventually be published as Ylana of Callisto. So this one isn't exactly a book that never existed, but since the final version has a different title and isn't exactly the same story, I'll include it. Much like the earlier Red Empress of Callisto, which eventually became Mad Empress of Callisto, the book changed in the writing.
Lin Carter succumbed to cancer in 1988 at the age of 58, which isn't very old at all. It's always interesting and a little poignant to speculate on what a writer might have written had he lived to an older age. To think of the books that never existed, but might have.


John said...

Jorge Luis Borges wrote a short fiction on a similar concept called "The Library of Babel". It is a good read. A lot of his fiction is "pre-fantasy" and contains a lot of interesting fantasy concepts that I really appreciate.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Thanks for the recommendation, John. I'll check that out.