The de Camp Controversy: Part 12

The late 1970s found L. Sprague de Camp in a favorable position.  Taking an aggressive stand with the formation of Conan Properties, Inc., he was able to throttle the infant pure Howard Conan book series from Berkley in its cradle and figuratively castrate rival editor/pasticheur, Karl Edward Wagner. The road was clear to inflict more pastiches upon the reading public.

In short order the collection, Conan the Swordsman, was on the shelves of your local B. Dalton Bookseller and Waldenbooks in August 1978. The book is a collection of flotsam and jetsam with attempts to fill in gaps of the “saga.” The first story, “The People of the Summit,” goes back nine years to the collection The Mighty Swordsmen. The original appearance was bylined Bjorn Nyberg, this time is was Nyberg & de Camp. The story itself is not that bad for a pastiche. Bjornan is in the Turanian army and his detachment is wiped out by a degenerate remnant of sorcerers. Richard Toogood did a textual comparison of the two versions of the stories and found that de Camp routinely softened the language in the story. Nyberg’s version has Bjornan casually dropping Shanya to the ground while de Camp’s has him gently laying her.  De Camp changes the “women, with white stringy hair” to “crones.” Shanya’s character is consistently haughty in Nyberg’s version while de Camp adds having her blush when she becomes aware she is nude. “Legions of the Dead” is both de Camp and Carter and I detect Catherine de Camp. Carter’s Witch-men of Hyperborea are back along with the oft used Carter device of reanimated corpses. Conan becomes Sir Galahad to rescue Rann Njordsdattir from the Hyperboreans. As the army of corpses closes in on the doomed band of Aesir warriors, Conan places Rann on a stallion and slapes his sword on the beast’s butt! “To Asgard and safety!” De Camp & Carter are the authors of “Shadows in the Dark,” a sequel to “Black Colossus.”  I see little Lin Carter present as Conan rescues the King of Khoraja from Ophir. When asked if he had become the lover of the king’s sister, Conan replies–“If I had, it would be ungentle of me to admit it. But tell me, would you accept me as a brother-in-law?” Bet you never heard Conan talk like that before. Reading this story was tedious. “The Star of Khorala” by Nyberg & de Camp is return of the Conan in King Arthur’s Court that we saw in the opening of Conan the Avenger. The story has the feel of a late 19th Century historical romance replete with knights in armor. Congor returns for one last time in “The Gem in the Tower.” If it’s pirates- it’s Lin Carter! This story is almost completely Carter as there is a Thongor version that appeared two years before in Fantastic (Nov. 1976) called “Black Moonlight.” Farewell Congor and Lin Carter. This was the end of the line for both. Carter was a means to de Camp’s ends and his permanent record suffered greatly for it.  “The Ivory Goddess” is listed as by de Camp & Carter but de Camp friend, Loay Hall, reported about four years ago at the rehinnercircle yahoo group that Catherine de Camp is the real co-writer and not Carter. The story is a direct sequel to “The Jewels of Gwahlur.” First we need a new name for the pastiche Conan character. Congor is gone but we will call him “Spraguenan” from here on out. Spragenan is in archaeology mode with “The modern Puntians could not have built this temple. This marble must have traveled a long way.” Mrs. de Camp’s presence is immediately revealed when the slave girl Muriela is literally turned into a godess and Spraguenan addresses her as “Your divinity.” Makes me think of Roseann Barr when I see that phrase. “Moon of Blood” is another story supposedly written by the de Camps instead of de Camp & Carter. This story is just plain boring.

A few months later “Do You Think I’m Sexy” by Rod Stewart polluted the radio waves and you got to buy the book that killed Karl Edward Wagner’s Day of the LionConan the Liberator by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. This novel reads mostly as by de Camp. De Camp told Robert M. Price that they began writing the novel in early 1972 but Carter bowed out early. Catherine de Camp then wrote it with her husband. So you get a menage a trois here. Liberator is a pretty lifeless novel. A friend of mine who knew Lin Carter said Carter badmouthed the book when it came out. Poul Anderson’s introduction to The Best of L. Sprague de Camp mentions that de Camp’s characters are “limited, fallible, tragi-comic.” That includes Spraguenan. I always imagined Conan’s rise to kingship as one of those lightning fast campaigns with a bloody battle. Sort of like Roman civil wars when a commander of legions would decides to become emperor. Spraguenan’s battle plans are incompetently orchestrated and he is beaten in the first battle. He is saved by the arrival of the Argossean army and another contingent of Aquilonian rebels. De Camp is didactic as ever here. He has Conan wonder after seeing a mounted Bossonian archer. Shazam, “Suddenly, in his mind’s eye, Conan saw a host of mounted archers pursuing the fleeing foe until, coming within range, they dismounted to loose shaft after deadly shaft.” Isn’t Conan supposed to be a seasoned, victorious general in several countries by this point? This makes Spraguenan look very amateurish. De Camp would have been better having Spraguenan order the Bossonians mounted like the Turanian archers and ditch the lecture. There is no climactic battle, Conan sneaks into the palace using the uniforms of turncoats. The sorcerer Thulandra Thuu escapes to do evil elsewhere. The sorcerer is probably a Carter creation and being set up for future confrontations with Congor or Spraguenan. There was a sense of deja vu when I reread this novel. Then it hit me, de Camp pilfered the plot to The Well of the Unicorn by his friend Fletcher Pratt. Pratt’s novel is overrated but it came out at a time when hardly any fantasy came out. So later on during the fantasy revival of the 1960s, it was trotted out in paperback. Pratt has the same win by losing strategy that is found in Conan the Liberator.

Richard Toogood has already deconstructed Conan and the Spider God in detail. I really can’t add anything to it that he hasn’t already said outside of de Camp couldn’t write a Spraguenan story without a co-writer. It was disingenous to list the writer as “L. Sprague de Camp” but I guess he thought the little kiddies wouldn’t buy a Spraguenan novel with a woman listed as co-author.

De Camp had control over the pastiches being written for Bantam at this time. Poul Anderson’s Conan the Rebel was a big disappointment for me. Anderson had written some blood & thunder historicals such as Rogue Sword and The Golden Slave. He also wrote one especially Howardesque story that was in Planet Stories in the early 1950s–“The Virgin of Valkarion.” I don’t know if de Camp forced Anderson to cut the guts out of his novel or if the book is the product of a middle-aged man. “Conan the Chronicled” in Amra #70 by Anderson mentions his wife’s help. Looks like we have another Conan pastiche co-written by the wife. That explains it. Anderson originally has Belit’s enslaved brother a gelding. “An editor” (I think we know who that is) “declared that, since the average reader of a Conan book is a young male and many such have unexpected castration anxieties, this might make them dislike the story without knowing exactly why.” The dangerous aspects inherent in the original Robert E. Howard stories are methodically removed and the concept dumbed down in the pastiches. John Maddox Roberts later complained that the hard edges he wrote were toned down.

The novelization for the 1982 Conan movie is interesting in that L. Sprague de Camp used to complain that Lin Carter got paid but did no work. He claimed his wife was the collaborator. Carter told Robert M. Price that Catherine de Camp wrote the draft and then Carter went in and “break up its long sentences into something more Howardesque.” Lin Carter must have done something in order to get paid.

This was the end of the de Camp pastiches. The work was farmed out from here on out with de Camp making money on Conan licensing. Historical romance writer Robert Jordan was brought in to write a new set of pastiches for Tor Books from 1982-1986. The books were successful enough to repair the brand name and spawn the huge wave of Tor pastiches by other authors from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s. De Camp would be involved reading submitted novels and make suggested changes.