Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Kellory the Warlock

I mentioned in my post about John Jakes' story, Devils in the Walls, that I had also planned to review Lin Carter's short story, Vault of Silence, from the same anthology, Swords Against Tomorrow, but things got complicated. See when I read Vault of Silence, I thought it sounded less like a short story than a chapter in a longer tale. Oh it had a beginning, middle and end, but it didn't seem quite complete. I went to my bookshelf and pulled down Carter's novel Kellory the Warlock, (Kellory being the hero of Vault) and sure enough, Vault of Silence, renamed Valley of Silence, was a chapter in the episodic novel. Apparently every chapter was written as a short, but only Vault was actually published prior to the release of the novel in 1984. Why? Nobody knows. Carter friend and sometimes biographer Robert M. Price states in his book, Lin Carter: A Look behind His Imaginary Worlds that he's not absolutely sure that Carter wrote all the Kellory stories at once in the early 1970s but it looks likely. So once I realized that Vault was part of a much longer story, I decided to read all of Kellory and review that instead of just the short story.
Kellory is sort of an interesting case for Lin Carter because the character doesn't seem to be based on anyone else's character specifically. I'm a huge fan of Carter, but even I have to admit that most of Lin's published work falls into the category of pastiche. His Jandar of Callisto books are based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars. His Zarkon books are based on Doc Savage. His Eric of Zanthodon is based on ERB's Pellucidar novels. His burly barbarian Thongor is a Conan knock-off with some Barsoom thrown in. However, the thing I usually point out about Lin is that he wasn't attempting to fool anyone into thinking these were original ideas of his own. He wanted to write books that mimicked his writer heroes, at least early in his career.
Later he tried to go more in his own direction, with mixed results. His humorous fantasy novels (Kesrick,Mandricardo, etc) are more clearly his own, but I don't find them as enjoyable as his REH and ERB pastiches.
Kellory the Warlock, though, seems to be mostly an original character. I've heard people say he was Lin's take on Michael Moorcock's Elric, but I don't really see it. The only thing he seems to have in common with old red eyes is that both characters are depressed a lot. Not that the character himself is terribly original. His origin, last survivor of a tribe destroyed by evil horde, is pretty standard fantasy stuff. I just mean that Kellory doesn't seem to be a knock off of any specific character. The one thing that makes Kellory sort of interesting as a sword & sorcery hero is that this time the hero has the sorcery and the bad guys the swords. Otherwise he has the same sort of adventures as Thongor, Brak and the lot.
Anyway, the book begins with young Kellory in the mountains seeking the castle of the Green Enchanter, the most powerful mage in the known world. Kellory's tribe was killed by the Thungoda horde and Kellory was left alive, though maimed, to tell the tale. The Thungoda barbarians held Kellory's hand in the same fire where his father was being burned alive so that Kellory could never raise a sword against the horde. But Kellory is still bent on revenge and he seeks out the Enchanter, hoping to become his apprentice so that he may use magic as a weapon.
This chapter contains some of Lin's better writing. His descriptions of the Enchanter's castle, which rests within a field of protective sorcery inside an active volcano, are well done. You can feel the heat of the lava and smell the sulfur. Lin could turn a nice phrase when he worked at it.
Chapter two is the aforementioned Vault of Silence, picking up several years later when Kellory rescues a captive girl from a group of Thungoda. He has acquired a black staff through which he can focus his magical power and blast things. The staff is a handy device, because it can be taken from the protagonist, thus reducing his power. The problem with wizard characters is their powers have to be defined and controlled or they become too powerful and there's no suspense because the mage has a spell to get him out of anything. Of course he can call the staff to him, sort of like Thor does with his hammer, but there are ways to keep him from doing that at important moments.
In this chapter we learn that Kellory is seeking an ancient tome, The Book of Shadows, because it could contain a spell which will allow him to wipe out the entire Thungoda horde. He hopes to find the book in the tower of its centuries dead original owner, but that doesn't pan out.
In chapter three, Kellory and his companion end up captured by desert tribesman. They eventually win the tribesmen over and the group enters a lost city where a supernatural menace lurks. The tribesmen are hoping for treasure and Kellory hopes the Book of Shadows is in the city. This is the chapter where Carter's world building falls apart a bit, because presumably Kellory's adventures take place on a world in another star system. But the desert is full of scorpions and vipers and lizards and other decidedly earth like life forms. There are some monsters and things too, but for all intents and purposes Kellory's world is no different from those of any of the other sword & sorcery series set in earth's lost past. Parallel evolution, perhaps, but it seems kind of pointless to say something takes place on another world and then just reproduce Earth.
As you can see, the chapters are still following the pattern of Vault of Silence. Each is a complete short story but one leads into the next. I'll lay off the chapter by chapter breakdown here in case anyone wants to read the book. It is fast paced and a lot of fun and it has some good fantasy ideas in it. I think that perhaps if Carter had concentrated on Kellory and a few more original ideas he would be better respected today as a writer. Most of his pulpish books are certainly no worse than dozens of others that were being published by DAW in the 1970s-80s, but their status as obvious pastiches hasn't done Carter's rep any good. If he has a legacy it will probably be as an editor rather than a writer and that's a shame in some ways because he wrote some entertaining books and short stories.

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