Fantasies I’ve been reading

A DREAM OF ARMAGEDDON: The Complete Supernatural Tales of H.G. Wells doesn’t quite live up to its title (I don’t see what qualifies “The New Accelarator” or “The Crystal Egg” as fantasy rather than SF) but its a very good collection of the stories Wells turned out from early Poe-esque thrillers (and the deft, Kiplingesque “Pollock and the Porrah Man”) through the more Western Union “Country of the Blind” and “The Door in the Wall” (which strikes me as the forerunner of Twilight Zone‘s “A Stop at Willoughby”). Certainly the whimsical humor of “A Vision of Judgment,” “The Temptation of Harrington” and “The Man Who Could Work Miracles” would surprise anyone who knows Wells only from his SF novels; a good collection.
IN THE FOREST OF FORGETTING is a collection of fantasy shorts by Theodora Gross, drawing heavily on her Hungarian ancestry (though more fairy-tale and folklore than on vampire legends) as a painter becomes an ill-fated muse (“Letters From Budapest.”), enlightenment comes from an orchid (“Phalaenopsis”), Sleeping Beauty happily embraces her spindle (“The Rose in Twelve Petals.”) and Emily Gray (who strikes me as a darker Mary Poppins) shows up to rescue young girls in a couple of stories. Effective, though the title story itself was weak.
THE DEVIL TREE OF EL DORADO by Frank Aubrey is an 1897 Lost Race novel in which a pair of plucky Brits leave Guyana with a Mysterious Guide (whose secrets would no more astound you than they did me) to discover the lost city of Manoa (“Or as the Spanish called it-El Dorado!”), which comes replete with Beautiful Princess, Sinister High Priest and the title bear. Pretty dull–the tree is a good monster, but there’s hints of other Terrible Monsters that never show, so we’re stuck mostly with the humans. The results mostly show that Haggard and Merritt are tougher acts to follow than one might think; also the rationale for violating the guide’s decree Manoa must remain lost is comical now (Aubrey claims that revealing this will arouse British interest in a border dispute with Venezuela, and naturally the immortalist Monella would want his city in British hands!).
THE BELL AT SEALEY HEAD by Patricia McKillip is an invisible chiming ringing at sunset in a sleepy coastal port, which may have mysterious ties to the Gormenghast-like castle (“Carry out the ritual. And never ask why.”) accessible through the stillroom of a nearby manor house. This uses a lot of McKillip’s favorite elements, such as magic books and people trapped in an old web of magic (I’ll have to reread her Riddle Master trilogy sometime to see if the seeds are there); very good.
PRACTICAL DEMONKEEPING was Christopher Moore’s first novel, wherein a man-eating demon and its reluctant immortalist master (“Oh, that’s right, I did renounce God.”) drop in on the community of Pine Cove where the demon hopes the local pagan leader can be conned into releasing it, and the proprietor of HP’s Cafe (“The Eggsothoth Special is so delicious, reading a description would drive you insane!”) worries that this is a sign the Old Ones are finally making their move. Entertaining, as usual for Moore.
MIDNIGHT NEVER COMES is a good fantasy by Marie Brennan in which an Elizabethan courtier and an ambitious faerie damsel find their struggles against the ruthless Faerie Queen hinge on learning the secret of a pact she made with Elizabeth that keeps both queens on the throne. Nicely done, and good use of the Elizabethan setting
PETER AND MAX: A Fables Novel by Bill Willingham is a spinoff of Willingham’s Fables comic-book series that bounces between the long-ago adventures of Peter Piper, his malevolent brother Max (who eventually becomes the Pied Piper), Little Bo Peep and Frau Totenkinder and what happens in the present when Max shows up to finally settle things with his sibling. Good, though a bit of an anticlimax in the big showdown (I think the pacing would have worked better in the comic) and interesting for some background on the Fables.
Some consider THE WORM OUROBOROS by E.R. Eddison a fantasy classic in its depiction of the war between Demonland and Witchland—but I’m not one of them. On the one hand, Lord Juss of Demonland and his fellows are so invincible mano-a-mano it’s hard to doubt they’ll come out on top; on the other hand, the wizard-king Gorice’s cunning and sorcery only fails to give him the final triumph because of pure dumb luck. Beautifully written, but that’s about all I can say for it—and I’m inclined to agree with Fritz Leiber that the ending makes Juss & Co. less epic heroes than really pathetic monarchs.
THE MAGIC THREE OF SOLTARIA by Jane Yolen, is an excellent fairy-tale fantasy in which a fishing family’s struggle with a mermaid witch and a cruel king force them to use, over and again, the titular trio of wishing talismans, despite the warnings of Serious Consequences (“If magic is used for evil, a corresponding good will result; if for good, then evil will respond.”). Very nicely done.

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One response to “Fantasies I’ve been reading

  1. Pingback: Imaginary Worlds: a secondary-world history (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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