Striding Through The Twilight

Christopher M. Chupik grew up on the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard and yes, Lin Carter. He has been published by Annalemma Books and Rough Edges Press and his Arthurian Sword and Sorcery tale "The Forest of Bones" was published in Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #37. He is hard at work on his next project. You can check out his Twitter at:


Lin Carter gets a bad rap.

Not to say it isn't entirely undeserved. It is quite true that Linwood Vrooman Carter shamelessly borrowed from all of his favorite authors, often going so far as produce carbon copy imitations of Burroughs, Howard and Brackett. His plots can be repetitive, his prose pulpy and his characters can be charitably described as "archetypal".

And yet his vices could also be his virtues.

His passion for older authors is contagious. It was his DAW anthology Lost Worlds which introduced me (albeit in a somewhat compromised form) to the worlds of Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard. Because of him, I first read the works of Leigh Brackett and Karl Edward Wagner. And while his Conan pastiches co-authored with L. Sprague de Camp could vary greatly in quality, Carter's energy often counterbalanced de Camp's tendency towards academic dullness (as anyone who has suffered through the Carter-less Conan and the Spider God can attest).

Carter's work is the Fantasy equivalent of fast food. Sometimes you want an expensive steak dinner and dessert, and sometimes you just want a Big Mac.

But when he wasn't trying to be another writer he could sometimes hit one out of the park.

Lost World of Time is one of those times.

The titular setting is Zarkandu, formerly the fifth planet of the Solar System. This derived from the then-current Phaeton theory, which postulated that the Asteroid Belt was the remnants of a planet that once existed in the orbit between Mars and Jupiter. Now discredited, it was once a staple of science-fiction. In fact, one of Edmond Hamilton's Captain Future novellas dealt with this trope. Its title? The Lost World of Time.

The opening chapters are reminiscent of the beginning of Robert E. Howard's "Black Colossus", with Alara, female heir of the failing Chalsadon Empire, seeking the help of the gods against the Black Horde threatening her city. Her search leads her to the Isle of Tombs and the crypt of Zasterion the Enchanter. Zasterion is sort of an eldritch Hari Seldon, having left behind a magical recording of himself to advise future rulers of the Chalsadon Empire about the dangers they will face. He urges her to seek a warrior without a sword, which leads us to the hero of the novel, Sargon the Lion.

Sargon is introduced thusly:

A towering bronze giant of a man, with the mighty thews and deep chest of a gladiator, his face grim and bleak and somber under a tawny, tousled mane. From throat to wrist and heel he was clad in supple leather, sewn all over with plates of gray steel, and there was a vast black cloak fastened to his shoulders with cairngorm brooches. As he came striding through the twilight up to the towering bastions of the Sea Gate, an empty leathern scabbard belted to his thigh, his cloak belled from the breadth of his shoulders like the wings of some great bird.

Soon Sargon is recruited, armed with the Maul of Jathar and sent north to the Wall of the World. Along the way, Sargon and Alara encounter Bialkin the Bold, a Robin Hood-esque outlaw with the requisite band of followers. Soon Alara is kidnapped (by a literal magical plot device that Carter at least has the decency to state cannot be used to create further plot holes) and brought to Sham Nar Chan, the Black City, where the Horde is assembled where she comes face to face with Shadrazar the Warlord. Shadrazar is a demigod, who has single-handedly forged the hordes of the Ormslings and the Jahangirya into a world-conquering army. Carter's description of the warlord ends with one of the coolest weapons I've read about in any Fantasy novel:

At his thigh, in a scabbard of ice, a black thunderbolt was sheathed like some unearthly sword; sparks of blue fire hissed and crackled along its cloudy and flowing bladed edges.

Despite names like 'Sargon', 'Wulfgrim' and 'Jahangir', and that fact that this novel was published in the heyday of von Daniken, Carter does not seem to be implying any connection between Zarkandu and ancient Earth. I suspect the use of such names was simply because Carter was hip-deep in ancient names from doing Conan pastiches with de Camp. Or perhaps he was simply careless.

Sargon leads the defence of the Wall of the World, where we are introduced to a Homeric host of heroes. We can see the influence of Tolkien here, with a character named "Paramir" and some barbaric folk known as the Drunthagar, the Wild Men of the Mountains who recall the Druedain.

It all climaxes in a suitably epic final battle with desperate last stands against overwhelming odds, all the things that make Heroic Fantasy great:

Then bright bugles blew and to the wonder of all the great brazen gates of Arcantyr swung open. A breathless hush fell over the embattled field as all eyes turned to see what had chanced. There within the gates, mounted on an armored sangan, sat Prince Paramir of Gond Amrahil and his warriors. And Jemadar the Tall was there and brave Felenice, the third of the Three Brothers of Koth Paladon. With a mighty shout and a glare of lifted swords this new host swept on thundering steeds down the slope to crash against the side of the Jahangir Horde. The shock of that collision was terrific; the earth shook beneath their meeting and the shouts and cries of battling men rang out over the dust-mantled plain.

If I have a quibble, it's that there's no real final showdown with Shadrazar. I was really hoping to see that black thunderbolt in battle. Doubtless Carter was thinking of sequels. However, unlike his long-running Jandar and Thongor series, this is done in one. I am torn between my desire to read more of the saga of Sargon and the fear that he might have mucked it up. Ah well, what might have been!

Carter's heroes, be they Ganelon or Thongor or Diodric, are always receiving some supernatural aid, usually in the form of some wise old wizard or good old-fashioned divine intervention. This places him in direct contrast to someone like Howard, whose protagonists always distrusted magic and magicians. Here at least the magician Zasterion is a distant presence, who sets the plot in motion but no more.

There's nothing ground-breaking or original about Lost World of Time, it is true, but there's nothing wrong with that, either. Not every story needs to be completely unique. Sometimes a familiar tale well told is all you need. After all, the reason why so many tropes are well-worn is because they work.

This certainly ranks among Carter's best works. Seek it out.

Would you like fries with that?