Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Spell of Seven

During my sorting of old and new books, I stopped to look at some paperbacks I hadn't seen in a while. (Which is, of course, one of the pleasures of sorting books.) One of these volumes was The Spell of Seven, a 1965 anthology of sword & sorcery edited by L. Sprague De Camp. This one is a classic in that it contains Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, Clark Ashton Smith, Michael Moorcock, and Lord Dunsany. Crom, what a line up. And it has illustrations by Virgil Finlay!
REH weighs in with Shadows in Zamboula, which many fans consider lesser Conan. I've always liked the story. It has some truly gritty moments for Conan and some nice creepy bits. I haven't checked to see if this is the De Camp edited version, but it probably is. The acknowledgement page just says "Originally published in Weird Tales for November 1935."
The Fritz Leiber Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story is one of my favorites, Bazaar of the Bizarre, which manages to be a sword swinging tale and at the same time a biting social satire. Not nearly as easy as Leiber makes it look. Dark, funny, and exciting at the same time.
Elric and Moonglum appear in Moorcock's Kings in Darkness, a tale of Elric's wandering days. I actually need to sit down and give this one a reread. Haven't read it in a couple of years. I'll do that this weekend.
I've noted before that I don't consider the works of Lord Dunsany and Jack Vance to be sword & sorcery, but both were masters of original and interesting fantasy. Vance is well represented by a tale from The Dying Earth, Mazirian the Magician and the Dunsany story is one of his most popular and most anthologized, The Hoard of Gibbelins. (And yes that's Hoard not Horde.) The first line is a classic. "The Gibbelins eat, as is well known, nothing less good than man."
I used to say the same of Clark Ashton Smith but Al Harron, of the inestimable Blog That Time Forgot, finally convinced me that at least some of Smith's work could be classified as S&S. That deserves a post of its own and I'll get around to it. However, the CAS tale in The Spell of Seven, The Dark Eidolon, is all sorcery and no swords. It's one of Smith's dark prose poems, filled with enough weird atmosphere and ideas to carry a novel. It's a tale of vengeance that brings to mind the old proverb 'when you set out for revenge, first dig two graves.'
But wait, you say. That's only six stories. Yeah, well, the seventh is L. Sprague De Camp's The Hungry Hercynian and though I am a fan of some of De Camp's work, this isn't one of his best. However we won't beat up on De Camp, because he put this anthology together and it is a very good one. There's also not much point in ragging him for anthologizing one of his own stories as that was standard procedure back in the day, when most people hired to put together anthologies were themselves writers of note.

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