Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Collection is Born

I collect things. Mostly books, but also comic books, DVDS, magazines, the occasional toy or statue. Among these collections would be books by and about Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock, Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Then there's my collection of obscure sword & sorcery novels and anthologies, my collection of Sherlock Holmes pastiches, and perhaps my most in-depth collection, the works of Lin Carter.
Thing is, none of these things started out to be collections. What usually happened was I would read one book by an author and be sufficiently interested to track down some more of his or her work, then eventually I'd end up with almost everything the writer had written. Being a completist kind of personality, once I realized I had most of what someone had written I would end up wanting to have everything they had written and there ya go. Collection. This has also happened with various comics or magazines. Witness last year's quest for a complete run of Savage Sword of Conan. There have been similar quests for full runs of such comics as Korak: Son of Tarzan, Dagar the Invincible, and the original Claw the Unconquered.
Last night I remarked to Cliff that this is about to happen with the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, BAF for short. I've talked about the BAF series before. These were a group of books published in the late 1960s/early 1970s and were reprints of old fantasy novels that preceded the Lord of the Rings. The series was designed to feed the sudden demand for epic fiction created by the publication of Professor Tolkien's massive work. I know it's hard to believe when you see the glut of Tolkien clone books on the shelves, but back in the 70s, you weren't able to find much fiction that resembled the LotR.
Enter Ballantine books, who hired the aforementioned Lin Carter to gather and edit a collection of fantasy novels, some culled from the past and others written by current authors. Carter, a long time fan and scholar of the genre went to work with relish, digging up such fantasy classics as The Well at World's End, The Worm Ouroboros, Vathek, The Night Land, The King of Elfland's Daughter, Lilith, and many many others. The series ran from 1969 until 1974 and there were 65 books published in the "official" run of the series. I say official because there were several books published earlier by Ballantine that actually led to the creation of the BAF series. Some were reprinted later with the BAF unicorn colophon added, so they're sort of second cousins to the BAF.
My interest in the series evolved gradually. Though all the books contain introductions and sometimes notes and afterwards by my boy Lin, my initial interest was only in the books that contained fiction or long essays by Carter. Carter usually included one of his own stories in collections like Golden Cities Far, New World's for Old, The Young Magicians and others. He wrote a history of fantasy called Imaginary Worlds, and volumes of literary criticism about Tolkien and Lovecraft. I sought all of these out for my Carter collection. Any other BAF books I happened across in used bookstores I would buy because of the Carter connection, but I wasn't actively seeking a full collection because frankly, I knew I'd never read some of the books.
However as time went by some of my other interests began to crossover with the BAF line. My study of the Pre-Raphaelites caused me to seek out the novels of William Morris and it was natural that I would pick up the BAF volumes. My growing interest in authors like Lord Dunsany and Clark Ashton Smith, whose works had also been published by the BAF added more books to the group. When my interest in Vikings made me decide that I wanted The Broken Sword and Hrolf Kraki's Saga by Poul Anderson, of course I sought out the editions with introductions by Lin. And so the stack of books grew.
Last night I ended up with two of the BAF volumes of Lord Dunsany stories more or less by accident. They came with a batch of books I'd bought off Ebay. Looking at the two volumes I realized that somewhere along the way I had crossed the halfway mark in my acquisition of the BAF books. I have a collection, and the collector's mind being what it is, my thoughts are turning to getting copies of the rest of the series. I mean they all have introductions by Lin Carter, so I should add them for no other reason than that, right? And um... they have some nifty covers...and uh..
Oh heck. I just want to own them all. The hunt goes on.

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