The de Camp Controversy: Part 9

L. Sprague de Camp got his cowriter in the form of Lin Carter to create new stories of Conan for the Lancer paperback series. Lin Carter had already been involved in making stories out of fragments for King Kull in 1967 and creating “The Hand of Nergal” out of an untitled Howard fragment. The first of the Carter & de Camp Conan pastiches would appear in Conan in 1968. The best analysis ever written exploring the Carter & de Camp pastiches is in Robert M. Price’s Lin Carter: A Look Behind His Imaginary Worlds (Starmont Press, 1991) in the chapter entitled “Amra the Lion Has Returned!” I followed Price’s method of analysis by reading de Camp’s historicals and The Tritonian Ring and a whole host of Lin Carter books to get an idea of what is Lin Carter and what is L. Sprague de Camp.

It was Price who divulged that Lin Carter had planned on a collection of Thongor stories to be entitled Swordsman of Lemuria after Thongor of Lemuria. Three of the story plots would be converted into Conan stories. I am unique in that going back to the Carter & de Camp Conan pastiches, I keep seeing Thongor instead of Conan. Steve Tompkins might be the only other. These stories are not quite like Thongor though. I had to devise a name for this counterfeit Conan. If you splice Conan and Thongor, you get two appropriate names. The first is Congor, which works very well. The other is Thongnan with the emphasis on the “Thong.” Brings up an image of a Carter & de Camp pastiche hero prancing around in a leather thong flaunting his butt cheeks.

The very first Carter & de Camp Congor story is “The Thing in the Crypt” which originally was to be a Thongor story. First– some gripes about the Lancer/Ace editions. What was the idea of splitting up Robert E. Howard’s essay “The Hyborian Age?” The first half is in Conan, the second half at the end of Conan the Avenger. There is no justification for this. Second–the author’s names are not listed on the first page of each story with the title. The effect is just “Conan,” not Robert E. Howard.  Was this a deliberate attempt to de-emphasize the authors and emphasis the character? Probably. Again, it goes back to inserting non-Robert E. Howard material into the books and presenting it as co-equal.  “The Thing in the Crypt” is really a short story but broken up into six min-chapters that Lin Carter was fond of doing with his shorter Thongor works. Congor is introduced to new readers running for his life from a pack of wolves. He just escaped from the Hyperboreans. Could the story have been improved by having Conan pursued by Hyperboreans and having him turn on them and spill some blood? Yes, but Carter & de Camp didn’t think of that. Conan is referred to as a stripling. REH would have never used that word. Also mentioned that Conan “had no clear ambition or plan of action.” I detect some de Campian phrasing here with “plan of action.” De Camp is also evident with an archaeological description of the tomb that Congor entered. The battle with the liche has a line, “How can you kill a thing that is already dead?” that Carter reused word for word in “Keeper of the Emerald Flame,” a Thongor story.  The whole story is based around getting this ancient sword that transforms Congor from a runaway youth into a confident warrior. Thongor carries a sword that he inherits of ancient lineage that is essential to fulfilling prophecies in Lemuria. Carter & de Camp fail to recognize that Howardian characters are badasses and that some special weapon is not what makes the character. Then after going to all this trouble, the ancient sword is never mentioned again!

The next Congor story is “The City of Skulls,” which Robert M. Price thinks is almost all Lin Carter who probably gave the title of “Chains of Shamballah.” Congor and his Kushite friend, Juma, are taken prisoner and put on a slave galley. Congor takes a beating from an overseer on the ship. Remember how long it took Conan to lead a ship revolt in “Hour of the Dragon?” Juma and Congor escape from the galley to rescue the captured Hyrkanian princess they were originally escorting and end up fighting an animated statue, which is a standard Lin Carter device. There are bits of de Camp in the story such as weapon terminology such as tulwar, Meruvian marines on the galley, and a lecture on the importance of learning other languages. The story is essentially written by Lin Carter and edited by L. Sprague de Camp. De Camp should have chucked the last sentence: “Well, I will, never, never underestimate a Cimmerian again!”

The same year brought Conan the Wanderer which included “Black Tears.” The bad prose begins early such as “leaving one as dry as the withered tongue of a Stygian mummy” but is rarer than other Carter & de Camp stories. Overall, this story may the best of the bunch and there is a reason. Lin Carter used the plot taken from Donald Wandrei’s classic “The Tree Men of M’Bwa” (Weird Tales, Feb. 1932) and adapted it for Congor. De Camp’s editing is better in general though again he should have scrubbed the last sentence: “It does a man good, once in a while to be virtuous. Even a Cimmerian!” Jeeezzz! Makes me think of the endings of the Scooby Doo cartoon.

Conan of Cimmeria brought the next batch of Congor stories in 1969. “The Curse of the Monolith” had appeared in the magazine, Worlds of Fantasy the year before as “Conan and the Cenotaph.” Like the previous stories, the plot is Lin Carter with some L. Sprague de Camp editing. Some clunker prose in this story include: “On the other hand, he secretly envied the Khitan his exquisitely cultivated manners and easy charm. This fact led Conan to resent the duke even more; for, although his Turanian service had given Conan some slight polish, he was still at heart the blunt, boorish young barbarian.” That sentence is definitely de Camp. Carter may have modelled his Duke Feng on Ernest Bramah’s Kai-Lung who Carter reprinted in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series.

“The Lair of the Ice Worm” was supposed to be a Thongor story for The Swordsman of Lemuria set in the north. Price’s book on Carter includes a synopsis for the Congor story that is set in tropic climes instead of the far north. The original title was supposed to be “The Devil Tree” and set right after “The Snout in the Dark.” Carter includes “They have been cromping for two weeks, making violent passionate love every night, etc…she must smell delicious narcotic pooh of the odd tree…never mind if waxen pale blossoms are slowly sinking to press kisses against her flushing crimson as they drink her warm blood…Conan comes completely awake all at once, as barbarians do…his nice blond nookie is gone…in embrace of eerie smelly tree…goddam vampire tree, sets fire to jungle underbrush to kill perfume.” Nookie, goddam vampire smelly tree, narcotic pooh? Looks like Carter was not taking writing Congor stories too seriously. In the published version, who wrote “Then he grunted a course expletive?” The story has the girl being eaten by the ice worm but ends on a happy note: “But with a high heart, turning to the golden South, where shining cities lifted tall towers to a balmy sun, and where a stong man with courage and luck could win gold, wine, and soft, full-breasted women.” You could have a nuclear holocaust and a Lin Carter story would end this way.

“The Castle of Terror” is possibly the single worst Carter & de Camp story. I detect de Camp in the first two “chapters” with the descriptions of African terrain and information on how a pride of lions hunt. The story switches to Lin Carter with the serpent men castle and the hundred headed creature which is downright laughable in its description. I think Carter was shooting for having a Lovecraftian shoggoth but got there by way of August Derleth. Congor is a bystander for the most part in this story which is not Conanesque at all. This was the last of the first batch of shorter Congor stories. The same year of Conan of Cimmeria brought us the first of the Carter & de Camp Congor novels.